Tuesday 26 October 2021
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
Transport Funding: Wales and HS2
I beg to move,
That this House has considered transport funding for Wales and HS2.
Bore da. Good morning. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Sir Edward. I am here to talk about HS2 and particularly funding for the railways in Wales. We are all aware that tomorrow the Chancellor has his Budget, that next week is COP26 and that the Government have been talking about connecting the Union, levelling up and net zero. When we think about all those together, there is a compelling case that the Chancellor should look to give Wales our fair Barnett consequential, akin to the Scottish one, so that we can tool up, gear up, connect up and help move the UK towards net zero with more rail investment.
The Welsh Affairs Committee, on which some of us here serve, recently recommended that Wales should receive the same Barnett consequential share as Scotland. Simply put, Scotland gets 91.7%, as a proportion of population, of its share of the total costs of HS2. If Wales got 91.7% of our 5% share of HS2, and if for argument’s sake HS2 cost £100 billion, Wales would get something in the region of £4.6 billion. If HS2 ended up costing twice that, we would get something in the region of £9.2 billion. I am sure that we will hear about this from the Minister soon, but we have heard that the projected costs have moved from £38 billion to £100 billion, and now there is talk of costs of £160 billion to £200 billion.
HS2 is obviously a UK scheme. However, it is a north-south spinal scheme, so it will clearly benefit Scotland more than Wales. One could argue that Wales should receive a higher proportionate share than Scotland, but that is not what I am arguing; I am simply arguing that we get our fair share.
I know that the Minister is a great expert in HS2. Phase 1 was originally due to be completed in 2027. That has been kicked forward to 2033, and the latest news from the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) is that we are looking at something like 2041. Given the timescale for action that is projected by COP26, we really must get a move on. There is a very strong case that Wales should have its share of the money to get on with shovel-ready schemes in both north and south Wales, to help build productivity and connectivity, to help with levelling up and to help deliver net zero.
We know that the Leeds section of HS2 has been cancelled. We also know that, because of the amount of concrete that will be used, HS2 will take 100 years to become carbon neutral, and that two thirds of the woodlands cut down will be burned by Drax power station, which will affect carbon emissions and air quality.
However, let us assume that HS2 is going ahead full throttle—namely that phase 1 might be over by 2041. We in Wales then have a case to get moving now and to get schemes delivered on the ground. I should disclose that, as people may know, a long time ago I was the leader of Croydon Council. I delivered the Croydon Tramlink scheme, a light rail electrified orbital tram system, which is 26 km long and connects Beckenham, Croydon and Wimbledon. That cost £200 million gross, but £100 million net, because it was a public-private partnership. That scheme, which connected three constituencies, cost the Exchequer only £100 million. With HS2, we are talking about £100 billion—a thousand times that scheme. My point is that there is a lot to be said for small, cluster-based schemes around the country, particularly on an east-west basis. I am talking about the northern powerhouse as well as connectivity to Wales and, very importantly, within Wales.
The situation in terms of relative competitiveness is that I can go from London to Manchester in two hours and 10 minutes, and from London to Swansea in about three hours. With HS2—if it does happen—we will be able to get to Manchester in one hour, so we have to ask what investors are going to do. We have already seen Virgin pull out of Swansea and go to Manchester because of this, and KPMG did a study some years ago showing that we will lose tens of thousands of jobs from south Wales unless we get some investment of our own to connect up, in particular, the clusters of Swansea and westwards with Cardiff and Bristol, to make that engine turn faster.
To return to the point the hon. Gentleman made about speeds and time, what is the rationale for the Severn tunnel being the dividing line? To the east of the Severn tunnel, a person can travel at 125 miles an hour, but we are supposed to accept that, for some reason, to the west of the Severn tunnel, the speed is 100 miles an hour at best. Why should we accept that as a rationale, when other times for travelling are being so spectacularly improved?
I completely agree with the right hon. Lady. Obviously, there are engineering and geographic issues here: Brunel originally had a straight line going through to Swansea, which would have taken half an hour—clearly, it used to loop around to pick up coal and that sort of thing. But one of the things about time, of course, is that if you increase frequency, you reduce average time. I appreciate that the Minister may have a different view on HS2, but I think there is too much focus on gaining a few extra minutes when what we really need from HS2 is greater capacity: bigger trains and thicker tracks, or whatever, not necessarily going faster. If I can go to Edinburgh in three hours, which is the same time it takes me to get to Swansea, do I really want to spend £100 billion or £200 billion to gain that extra bit of time?
In the meantime, although I know Members will talk about the benefits for Wales, it is sad that the current plan does not contain the direct link between Crewe and Manchester that would help Wales. As we know from our own line, after we zoom through to Bristol and then to Cardiff, there are a number of smaller stations, and the train has to stop and start and that sort of thing. If HS2 had lots and lots of different stations, it would have to stop all the time, so that has been ruled out, but that means that people have to travel a long way to get to HS2 and connect with it. If we do not have this Crewe connection—which we will not—the benefits for Wales will be very small, much less than for Scotland. My minimum ask is that we agree the Welsh Affairs Committee’s joint party report that said we should get the same share as Scotland, as opposed to more, because Scotland will benefit and we will lose out.
I am sure it was an omission by my hon. Friend—I call him that because he is Welsh—that he did not mention the Cambrian line, which goes through the heart of mid-Wales to Birmingham. Will he reflect on the hub of Birmingham, and how that impacts on Wales and HS2? He has talked about Crewe, Manchester and Bristol, but mid-Wales looks east to west, and that Birmingham exchange is incredibly important to my constituents.
The hon. Member makes an important point. Overall, having a fast north-to-south link along the spine of the United Kingdom is good for the UK, and obviously the connections with Birmingham are important as well. My central point is that we are going to spend all this money, but Scotland will benefit much more than Wales: at minimum, we should get our fair share. My secondary point is that a lot of shovel-ready schemes are available, many of which have been devised by the Welsh Government and are ready to roll. If we are serious about being a Union, connecting the Union and building productivity, we should do just that.
The productivity situation, of course, is that unfortunately the gross value added in Wales is something like 70%.In other words, the average wage is about 70% of the UK average. Of course, productivity is generated by skills, technology, access to markets and investment, and the productivity of the actual line is low. Traditionally, the Department for Transport’s formula for investing money, in terms of its cost-benefit analysis, rewards previous investment. In the south-east of England people have expensive houses, and the train network is basically made to spoke into London more and more so that people can work in London and live further and further away, with HS2 and other connectivity. What happens, obviously, is that house prices are bid up, so no one can afford to live in London. People spend half their time going back and forth on a train, using a lot of carbon, and even if the line is electrified the electricity must be provided somehow or other, and the energy of the world is being consumed.
We should look at a more regional basis—a cluster basis—that took advantage of what we all know now about Zoom technology to allow people to work from home, and that sort of thing. Post-pandemic and post-Zoom technology, in our new environment, we should look at how best we can spend money on building localised economies more quickly, rather than having much more grandiose schemes for the long term. I am not speaking against those things as such, but it seems to me that we need to bring forward these other projects.
On net zero, the Minister will know that in Paris we tried to deliver a maximum 1.5° C increase, but the latest projections are that we are already at 1.2° C and that by 2025 we will be at 1.5° C. In fact, over Europe it is already 2° C and over the Arctic it is already 3° C, because there is more heat over land than over sea, which is why 8,500 tonnes of ice are melting every second that we speak today. So we are running out of time. I am not pretending that our schemes in Wales can save the world, but we all need to think about how to do what we can as soon as we can.
On the investment we have had in Wales, the Minister will know that, in terms of rail enhancements over the last couple of decades, we have had only about 1.5% of the UK’s share for 5% of the population and something like 11% of the rail track. In recent times, I ran a big campaign, as the MP for Swansea West since 2010, to get rail electrification to Swansea. David Cameron said he would deliver it, but then something happened to him and we didn’t get it. It was then argued, “Oh, well, there won’t be a very big increase in line speed,” but what we need of course is frequency and electrification so that we get a better service and a greener future. That is something we need to come back to.
We have left the EU, but 60% of exports from Wales are to the EU, so we need support. In terms of economic clusters, the Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol city regions combined have 3 million people. Similarly, Leeds and Manchester have 3 million people. However, Leeds and Manchester get something like eight services an hour, whereas we get about one. So the issue, which comes out of the Hendy review and other things, is that we should be connecting up—this is not being nationalist in any sense—with Bristol and the south-west to create economic prosperity for south Wales and the south-west. We need that investment in railways now.
I know that Lee Waters, the Transport Minister, and Judy James in the Welsh Assembly have come forward with detailed schemes about how to provide a south Wales metro in the south-east and central areas, and moving west. In essence, we are talking about an integrated transport system that would connect up light rail with electric buses, electrified trains and even hydrogen-powered trains in a way that means people can easily get on to public transport and are not kept waiting for hours because the service is unreliable and infrequent, so that they will then switch from car usage.
I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. It is all very well saying that people must go on public transport but if we are serious about net zero public transport needs to be close to home, frequent, affordable and comfortable. People will make that shift if the fiscal strategy is there. I urge the Minister to urge the Chancellor to address that issue, and I am happy to work with them on that with colleagues.
I know that other Members want to speak, so I will shortly wind up—I am sure you will be thankful to hear that, Sir Edward. However, the Minister may or may not be aware of the Blue Eden project coming out of Swansea. That innovative project combines tidal energy with floating eco-houses—believe it or not—solar energy and capturing batteries’ energy. My point is that there is a great appetite for creative innovation to deliver net zero in Swansea, Wales and beyond. Part of that must be the investment in rail infrastructure and public transport that are environmentally friendly, people friendly and affordable and in building productivity to help Britain to deliver net zero, higher productivity and better prosperity for all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I want to make a couple of political points and to reflect on what my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) said—I will continue using “Friends”, as we are mostly Welsh in the Chamber.
This debate starts from the premise that HS2 is not good for Wales and I completely dispute that. On the political map of Wales, above the Brecon Beacons, we find one Labour MP. I think that is a reflection of the political circumstances of Wales. To put in a nutshell what is being alleged today, the political reality of the Labour party in Wales is that it is in south Wales, and only south Wales, so anything that matters to any one above the Brecon Beacons is not Welsh and not helpful for Wales.
In my intervention, I alluded to the Cambrian line. The Montgomeryshire economy looks east and west. It looks to Birmingham. Our railway line goes straight into Birmingham. Our international airport for mid-Wales is Birmingham International airport. In terms of a political ideological point about the Welsh nation, I get why people go on about north-south links, but the reality of our economy and transport is that we look to Birmingham. That is just a day-to-day part of life.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman shares with me the concerns that historically there were north-south links. There is a deep irony that anyone who wants to use a train for a north-south link now, even in my constituency, has to use a steam train, which is very effective, but not indicative of a country in the 21st century or of our needs. We need these links in Wales, to build the nation of Wales, alongside all the talk of building the Union.
I agree to a point, but it is ironic that since the creation of devolution we have seen the public transport network in Wales deteriorate. I speak as somebody who served as a director of a bus company. The funding to our bus companies in Wales and to a lot of things in devolved areas has completely wiped away capacity in the nation of Wales. I would reflect on what our Welsh Parliament has done to those north-south connections.
I occasionally commute to my constituency office by steam train—the right hon. Lady has been on the line from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool—and it does not reflect the modern, dynamic Wales we want, but the heritage railways are incredibly important.
I want to come back to my main point before the hon. Member intervenes. I will, of course, give way; he was very kind. The premise of this debate does not reflect mid Wales. It does not reflect north Wales, our priorities and the fact that we fall back on the spine of the UK railway network. I put it to Members that HS2 is as much about capacity as it is speed. In Montgomeryshire we look to London as much as we look to Cardiff, and anyone in my constituency who uses the UK network could see that it had huge capacity problems, pre covid. In Montgomeryshire, we can see the need to invest in that spine. We can see as businesses and constituents that we need additional capacity.
The hon. Member for Swansea West mentioned COP26 and the modal shift; if we are going to have those kind of shifts to public transport, we need the capacity. If we are going to have the capacity for mid-Wales, and the UK, we need new lines. I will give way if the hon. Member for Swansea West wants to intervene, and then the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd—why not two at once?
Because it is impermissible.
I have been arguing that we need more connectivity within Wales—in south Wales and north Wales—but also between south Wales and the south-west, between north Wales and Liverpool and Manchester, and mid-Wales and Birmingham. We need connectivity to connect the Union, but to do that we need our fair share of investment. That is my simple point; I am not trying to cut off Wales, and I am certainly not saying that south Wales is the be all and end all. However, it is the case, as my father found when he was in charge of economic development in the Welsh Office, that the connectivity between south Wales and the south-west and between north Wales and the north-west is greater than between north and south Wales.
Before I give way to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, I will reflect on the fact that this debate is very premature. The Union connectivity review is yet to come out, and those are the exact issues that Peter Hendy has been looking at. The review is the vehicle for delivering this. There is a pressure, at times, that unless we give money to the Welsh Government we are not giving money to Wales—that is not true at all. The UK Government invest in Wales as well as the Welsh Government. We have two Governments that look after Wales; the UK Government, in terms of strategic assets such as transport links, and the Welsh Government in terms of devolved responsibilities. I was in Machynlleth, at the black bridge, with Peter Hendy some months ago; as the hon. Gentleman and I have neighbouring constituencies, we know that that was a multi-million pound investment to sort out the Cambrian line by Network Rail and the UK Government. That should be the UK Government’s role, and I expect that after the publication of the Union connectivity review there will be a significant investment into Wales.
Of course, we do share the Cambrian coast line that runs through Montgomeryshire; it serves Ceredigion and Gwynedd as well. One of the issues that has arisen from HS2 is the way that it distracts from other possible places of investment. I would argue that for many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, as with mine, that improvements at Shrewsbury would make a far greater difference to connectivity in the immediate term than improvements to Birmingham.
I agree on that point. That is under the franchise of Transport for Wales; although it is an English station it comes under the Welsh franchise and they operate it. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and I are campaigning, along with other Shropshire MPs, to get direct services from Shrewsbury to London, and improve the connectivity across the UK in terms of the Cambrian line. I will give way once more, and then I will make some other cheap political points before I shut up.
This is very much a debate about Wales, transport and HS2, but the hon. Gentleman has referred to Union connectivity. I would ask if it is possible to consider us in Northern Ireland, who travel from Belfast to Liverpool to Wales, or go down south to come across on the ferry to Holyhead. When it comes to connectivity, we must improve everything within Wales, but we must do that for the benefit of the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—including for us in Northern Ireland who wish to travel to Wales.
I will remember that for the future, Sir Edward. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) makes an incredibly important point, and it is one that I hope the Union connectivity review does look into. While I am not suggesting a bridge or a tunnel from Holyhead over to Northern Ireland or the Republic, I am suggesting that we need to look at the importance of Holyhead as a UK strategic port, and some better way of connecting into the UK rail network. That is exactly where I want to see the investment from the UK Government going—into our Welsh railway network. The north Wales coast line is an incredibly important strategic railway for the whole of the United Kingdom, not just Wales. I am delighted that that remains—and long may it—the competence of the UK Government, because that is the only way we will see real investment.
I return to the opening speech by the hon. Member for Swansea West and the south Wales orientation of Welsh Labour, be it at parliamentary level or at that of the Welsh Government. On behalf of my constituents, I feel that especially with the Cambrian line. I know from north Wales Members that there is a strong feeling in communities of neglect by the Welsh Government and a complete orientation to Cardiff and south Wales.
I said I would not give way anymore. I am sure the hon. Gentleman can use his closing remarks to come back on me. Before I sit down, I would reflect again on the importance of looking east to west in terms of connectivity, and the importance of building additional capacity into our UK network. On behalf of my constituents, I welcome the Birmingham hub. I know that, for north Wales Members, the Crewe interchange, and how it builds into the north Wales coastline, will be incredibly important.
Although I recognise the passion and the sometimes cheeky ask for additional money, I expect that mid-Wales will require additional investment in its railway network from the UK Government, through the Union Connectivity Review. I hope that there is no push by anybody suggesting that the easiest way to solve any problem in Wales is to give more money, either through Barnett or directly to the Welsh Government. If we are going to level up and make a huge investment in our network in Wales, that has to come from the UK Government. Otherwise, as I alluded to, I fear it will be a complete south Wales monopoly on developments.
Diolch yn fawr iawn , Sir Edward. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing the debate. It is delightful to follow the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams).
HS2 is a symbol of many things, but for many people it is the example of a monumental Government white elephant. Justified on the basis of shaky calculations, which are almost 10 years old now, supported for the sake of political face-saving, and adjusted for political purposes rather than transport need, it has become for many people a political and economic catastrophe. It is certainly a highly political matter, of which the Conservative party will be aware, given recent by-elections.
That we press on with a project, originally costed at £32.2 billion in 2012 but now, scarcely nine years later, nearing £108 billion, is a testament to the failure of this Government to deliver. It is an example of the Westminster Government having their English cake and eating it, while telling the other nations to stump up for the ingredients. For Wales, it leaves an especially bitter taste.
HS2 has become a catchphrase for constitutional injustice, the high-handed mistreatment of Wales by Westminster, and the lack of fair play, let alone a level playing field. It reveals the reality of this Union of inequality. The consequences of HS2 for Wales are best seen when viewed, as two Members have already said, through the lens of the levelling-up agenda.
The Government have made much of their proposals for infrastructure investment, as part of the long overdue levelling-up agenda. Yet in the previous spending review, the Chancellor pummelled down rather than levelled up, by reducing the amount Wales will receive, when compared to UK Government transport investment in England. Wales was reduced from 80.9% in 2015 to just 36.6% in 2020. There is not much levelling up by the look of it. That represents a collapse of 44.3 percentage points, nearly half of what the Welsh Government will receive from every pound of UK taxpayers’ money, as spent by the English Department for Transport in England.
Why is that? Since 2015, Plaid Cymru has been arguing that Wales, like Scotland, should receive a full Barnett consequential from HS2 on the basis that it is a railway solely for England. Not an inch of its track will be laid in Wales. With the project currently expected to cost approximately £108 billion, Wales would receive roughly £5 billion based on our population share, if only we could apply the same formula with which all other England-only expenditure is treated. These are significant amounts of money, are they not?
That injustice was made worse by the Government’s project calculating that HS2 would cast a blight on the south Wales corridor. This region, of course, includes many of Wales’s valleys communities that are most desperately underinvested, and I am sure that it also includes the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis). The south Wales region is set to lose out to the tune of approximately £100 million a year because of the economic blight that HS2 will impose on the south Wales region.
This is where the situation becomes incomprehensible. Labour voted, against Plaid Cymru’s efforts, for Westminster to classify HS2 as an England and Wales project, arguing that both will benefit. That needs to be on the record. Even yesterday, the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), said that Labour is fully “committed” to the delivery of HS2 and described changes to the proposed route as a “betrayal”. I beg to differ. The significant betrayal is Westminster’s treatment of Wales and it is frankly incomprehensible to witness Labour’s collusion in that.
Tomorrow, the Chancellor must make good his mistake, and he has an opportunity to do that. We have heard an awful lot about levelling up. This is an opportunity to give Wales, like Scotland, what would surely seem obvious to any reasonable person outside this place—a full Barnett consequential from HS2, as Scotland has. This is a glaring injustice, made worse by the fact that despite having 11% of the UK’s rail track, Wales has received only 1.5% of the money that UK Ministers spent on rail improvements. Yes, there is spend on maintenance, but when it comes to improvements in the 21st century for a public rail transport system that we desperately need, that money is not being spent in any measure of equivalence in Wales. Correcting the Treasury’s treatment of HS2 and its Barnett consequential for Wales is the right thing to do, and that would fast-track our benefit from levelling up. That is, of course, if levelling up is ever to be anything more than a catchphrase for Wales.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this debate. He and I serve on the Welsh Affairs Committee and he alluded to its recent report on rail investment in Wales, which had a section on HS2. He will remember, from the fierce debates that we had during those private meetings, that he and I disagree very much on the essence of HS2 and its benefits to the people and the economy of Wales, but I admire his passion and I believe that we as Welsh MPs should fight for as much money for Wales as possible. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I firmly believe that HS2 presents an opportunity for us to build back better not just for England, but for the United Kingdom as a whole. I welcome the hon. Member’s comments that investment in the main spine down the United Kingdom benefits the whole United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) highlighted how his constituents and those in north Wales will benefit with respect to the east-west nature of their day-to-day travel, with journey times to London from Birmingham, their closest main hub, being significantly reduced. This investment will therefore benefit them.
To turn to areas such as my Bridgend constituency, in the past 20-odd months of being an MP, I have seen a huge number of small and medium-sized enterprises that are heavily involved in Government infrastructure projects, whether that is Hinkley Point C or HS2. I actually surveyed all of the businesses on one of our industrial estates. There were only a few dozen and not all of them replied, but over half of them were currently either servicing or considering tendering for a UK Government infrastructure project, most notably Hinkley Point C and HS2. There are currently 2,000 businesses involved in the development of HS2, with 9,000 people working on the line, and many of those businesses are based in south Wales. The whole of the United Kingdom gets to bid and tender for this work. That money and investment provides job security and opportunities for people across the whole of the UK.
The Select Committee report was slightly unfair and contains some inaccuracies. It suggested that the Welsh Government had not received a single penny from the Department for Transport spending on HS2. I would like to highlight that between 2015 and 2019 the Welsh Government received about £755 million in Barnett consequentials. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Swansea West is referring to future Barnett consequentials, but it is not the case that the Welsh Government have received nothing. They have received Barnett consequentials to date.
I do not think anybody is discounting the fact that increasing Department for Transport expenditure leads to overall consequentials for Wales. The question is on the impact of the HS2 element. Having mentioned the £755 million for Wales, what are the figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland, considering that they get 100% Barnett consequentials? That is the issue at hand.
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I represent a constituency in south Wales. Much has been made of the benefit to mid and north Wales, and I am trying to highlight some of the benefits to south Wales. If there is a benefit to people and businesses in Wales, with investment in infrastructure in the United Kingdom benefiting the UK and Welsh economy, surely we have to accept that to ask for 100% Barnett consequentials on the project is simply not right. We have to accept that Wales will get a benefit, so asking for a 100% comparison is simply not right.
Many of my constituents are very concerned about environmental factors, and achieving net zero is important.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Member’s comments, and I respect the fact that we have genuine differences. Will he accept that, if Scotland gets 91.7% of Barnett consequentials from HS2 and Wales gets zero, even if there are some benefits to Wales from HS2, it could be argued that we should get something in the middle? I know the benefits of people going from Wales to build HS2 and coming home to Wales, as he is mentioning, but should we not get a share at least? We need more money in Wales.
We have had this debate a lot. There have already been Barnett consequentials given directly to the Welsh Government. I think I have already addressed that point.
Coming back to net zero, we should be trying to drive up rail uptake, and I am very pleased with that. I want to talk about what the Welsh Government are doing with roads. We are talking about achieving net zero and the role of rail in that. We cannot expect net zero to mean zero cars. Passenger cars will be moving to electric technologies and potentially hydrogen technologies, and the state of roads is continually a cause of frustration for my constituents. I picked up three additional cases at my surgery on Saturday of residents on a street in Porthcawl who are frustrated and at the point of exasperation because they cannot get investment in the roads there, and they cannot get what they need. The Welsh Government’s decision to simply abandon any new investment in roads and to completely walk away from building the M4 relief road has done far more to frustrate my constituents than anything going on with HS2, frankly.
I will finish by saying that the bounce-back impact of HS2 in Wales cannot be underestimated, not only from additional funding but by improving transport links from mid and north Wales and increasing opportunities for all Welsh businesses, including those in my constituency. HS2 is a British project that seeks to level up the whole United Kingdom, and I believe it does just that.
Diolch. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing this timely debate on the eve of the Budget and the comprehensive spending review.
How Wales has been treated in relation to HS2 is a scandal of epic proportions, and it highlights why the British state does not, and never will, work for Wales. HS2 has been funded purely and totally by public investment, which means that Welsh taxes that have been paid into the general Treasury pot are being utilised. That is different from HS1, which was financed completely via private means. If anyone thinks that I am arguing against public investment in rail, that is not the case. I am arguing that if public investment is used to fund a major rail infrastructure project, the allocation of public funds becomes an important political topic.
Despite the confusion about future phases of HS2, with news reports this weekend indicating that future phases might run on existing routes north of Birmingham, the reality is that the HS2 project dominates UK rail infrastructure spending and will do so for many years. It is likely that the whole project will not be completed until the middle of the next decade.
When the last Labour Government promoted HS2, the projected costs were nearly £40 billion. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) said, the costs are now estimated at well over £100 billion by the independent Oakervee review, despite the Treasury’s desperate attempts to cut costs. Lord Berkeley, the review’s deputy chair, put the costs at more than £170 billion. Regardless of HS2’s finished costs, the key question for the debate and for Welsh transport is its impact on Welsh funding.
Rail infrastructure is not devolved in Wales as it is in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The cross-party Silk commission, set up by the Cameron Government in 2010 to look into the constitutional settlement, advocated equalising railway powers in the Welsh settlement with those of the other constituent parts of the UK. Even before HS2 came online, the commission understood full well the financial implications for Wales of those powers being retained in Westminster.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. There has been one significant material change since the original costing for HS2, in that since last year, Transport for Wales—Wales’ transport network—has been in public ownership under the operator of last resort. Given that the train system is in public ownership, surely Network Rail should also be devolved to align public spending most effectively in Wales, along with the proper funding. There is a staggeringly obvious discrepancy and inconsistency between those two things.
As always, my right hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. It does not make any sense that the responsibility for operating the railways in Wales is devolved to the Welsh Government but the responsibility for the infrastructure remains in the hands of another Government.
To return to my point, the Silk commission recognised that the devolution of those powers and the equalisation of powers for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, was right not only for operational reasons, but because of the financial implications and the historical underfunding of the Welsh railways that resulted from the powers being retained in Westminster.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. Does he agree that one has to differentiate, as I do not think the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) did, between the amount of money we get for Wales and who spends it? There was a lot of talk about UK money—“The Government spends this. Don’t give the money to the Welsh Government.”—but the basic point is that we should get our fair share. Of the £48 billion that Network Rail spends, about £1 billion is spent in Wales, which certainly is not the 5% that we deserve.
Absolutely; that is the financial reality. We do not even get a population share, which would be 5% of rail investment. People might argue that 11% of the rail network is in Wales, so we should be getting more than our population share. Historical underfunding is a huge problem for us in Wales in terms of developing our economy and moving our country forward. I will return to some of those themes later.
The hon. Gentleman is indeed being very generous. Will he reflect on the fact that a good chunk of the Welsh railway network is in England? We have already alluded to the fact that Shrewsbury station, which I can assure the Chamber is in England, is an important Welsh station. Going from north to south Wales, a large chunk of that trunk railway is in England.
I listened to the hon. Gentleman’s speech advocating the benefits of HS2 with great interest, but he needs to reflect on the full business case for HS2 produced by HS2 Ltd in 2020. According to Professor Mark Barry’s submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee, there is no passenger benefit to Wales at all from HS2.
Returning to my point, the political process in Westminster following the Silk commission was a hatchet job of the worst kind, in which representatives of the two main Unionist parties drew red lines through the commission’s recommendations. Regrettably, the report was torpedoed below the water line. One recommendation taken out of the report was the devolution of rail powers, which meant that the Wales Act 2014, which followed that process, retained the status quo on that vital issue. The financial implications of that decision are sobering in the context of a domineering project like HS2, due to its impact on Welsh Barnett allocations. It has been catastrophic for Welsh funding.
While Scotland and Northern Ireland get a 100% allocation from HS2, Wales gets a 0% rating because the British Government deemed it an England and Wales project. However, the last time I looked at a map—I made this point in a question to the Prime Minister some time ago—all the HS2 destinations are in England. It says everything about how the British state works that a decision of this nature, with such far-reaching consequences, can be made without challenge. In this post-Brexit world, due to the inequity of the financial settlements across the UK, I have advocated the creation of a body apart from the Treasury to allow the various Governments of the UK to challenge financial decisions. At the moment, Westminster is judge and jury; in this case, that is very much to the loss of Wales. As a result, I have voted against HS2 at every opportunity.
The reality is that as spending on HS2 increases, Welsh Barnett allocations plummet. Now that construction has begun on phase 1, the financial impact has become clear. According to the Wales Governance Centre’s analysis, the statement of funding policy accompanying the last comprehensive spending review indicated that Wales would receive 36.6% of its population share of transport funding, while Scotland and Northern Ireland’s shares remain above 90% due to their full entitlements from HS2, compounding the historical underfunding of the Welsh railways. In 2013, the British Government’s own analysis indicated that HS2 would injure the south Wales economy by more than £200 million per annum; given that that analysis was done eight or nine years ago, I suspect the injury to the Welsh economy will be far more severe than what was revealed at the time.
Underfunding has always been a major issue for Wales. In the way the Department for Transport allocates funding, as our railways become less efficient the case for investment is undermined; meanwhile, investment is ploughed into London and the south-east, leading to a conveyor belt of investment which makes the case for further investment. Indeed, when the Prime Minister was Mayor of London, he argued in the Evening Standard that transport spending in London would need to increase by £1 trillion—if I remember correctly—once HS2 was completed, due to the extra passengers arriving from the north of England. Put simply, the current system does not work for Wales, and we need urgent and rapid change.
The hon. Member for Swansea West made an important point about productivity. Even from the Treasury’s perspective, one of the major issues within the British state is the geographical imbalance in productivity. Transport infrastructure investment is a key economic driver, so if all investment is utilised in and allocated to the most high-performing areas, productivity gaps are worsened. The simplest way to address productivity gaps is to invest in the poorer performing parts of the state, as the German Government realised following reunification—and there was a wall between East and West Germany for half a century. Alas, in the UK, all the money is spent in one small corner. Pre-Budget soundings suggest that an extra £7 billion or so will be allocated for expenditure outside London and the south-east, but the key question is how much of that is new money. It may be less than £2 billion. We wait to hear what the Chancellor has to say tomorrow.
To emphasise the point I made to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), in a submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s recent inquiry into this issue, transport expert Professor Mark Barry stated that the full business case for HS2 produced in 2020 proved that HS2 had no transport user benefit for Wales. How the British Government can maintain that this is an England and Wales project is beyond rational understanding, so fairness is at the heart of this debate. Welsh taxes are being used to fund an England-only project that will also have a negative impact on our economy, with no recompense via the Barnett formula. Some might say it was ever thus, but to use the phrase of the moment, this is not levelling up; this is levelling down.
If Wales received fairness in real investment, we could be looking at exciting projects such as a comprehensive metro system for the west based on the one in Swansea—a project that I very much support—a north-south line along the western seaboard, opening up the western half of our economy for further economic development; enhancements across the north Wales and Heart of Wales lines; and electrification of the main line to Swansea.
The hon. Gentleman talks about these fantastic projects, but given the Welsh Government’s signalling their reluctance to make significant investment in infrastructure with their recent decision not to build the M4 relief road, are they not just further fantasy?
That is a very interesting intervention. I am not defending the Welsh Government’s policy in its totality, but they want to move away from road and towards public transport. If we will not be using road, we have to invest in rail. This is the fundamental question facing us as Welsh representatives: given that the UK Government have shown clearly that they have no intention of investing in Welsh rail transport infrastructure, what are we going to do about it? The only way to address that is to take responsibility for ourselves.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Welsh Government are not abandoning all investment in roads? They are doing a roads review, looking at how they can balance transport between road, rail and active transport in a sustainable way, which will inevitably—hopefully—lead to a bit more public transport and rail, including electrified buses and public transport on roads. We will have more roads, but we will not necessarily need the M4 relief road if on one in five days people are on a Zoom call instead of sitting in their car.
My understanding of the Welsh Government’s policy is no new extra roads. That does not mean that there will not be investment in road maintenance. However, the reality is that, if we are going down that road, there has to be investment in alternative modes of transport, which again furthers the case for us in Wales to receive the powers, so that we can get investment and make the decisions ourselves. That is fundamentally at the heart of this debate.
On one side of the argument are those of us who argue that Westminster will never invest in Wales, so we need rail powers in Wales that will bring the investment and allow the Welsh Government to make decisions on investing in our own country. On the other side are those arguing that the UK Government will eventually come good and start investing in Wales. That will not happen, so the only solution is for rail powers to be devolved to Wales and for the Barnett consequentials to flow to Wales from England-only projects, as happens in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which will enable Welsh Government Ministers to pursue the transport priorities of our own country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) on securing the debate. He is more often in the Chair than addressing it, so it is great to see him in his place. He made a compelling case for a redesignation of the funding formula so that HS2 is considered England-only. As right hon. and hon. Members have heard, that would mean that under the Barnett formula, up to £5 billion more could flow into Wales’s rail infrastructure and put Wales on the same basis as Scotland and Northern Ireland when it comes to the formula’s consequentials.
My hon. Friend makes that argument not only because he is a doughty and dogged champion for the people of Swansea, and indeed, the whole of south Wales, but because he rightly identifies that rail infrastructure in Wales is in pressing need of investment and modernisation. The redesignation of HS2 as England-only is a sensible and practical way to release funds to upgrade the railway in Wales. It was, after all, one of the recommendations of the cross-party Welsh Affairs Committee. In its report on 6 July, the Committee concluded:
“There is a strong environmental and economic case for substantially enhancing the rail infrastructure that serves Wales, and the passenger experience of slow services and inadequate stations only underlines the need for an upgraded network.”
In its conclusions, the Committee reported that:
“Wales will not benefit in the same way as Scotland and Northern Ireland from Barnett consequentials arising from the HS2 project. This is despite the fact that UK Government’s own analysis has concluded that HS2 will produce an economic disbenefit for Wales. We recommend that HS2 should be reclassified as an England only project. Using the Barnett formula, Wales’ funding settlement should be recalculated to apply an additional allocation based on the funding for HS2 in England. This would help to ensure that Welsh rail passengers receive the same advantage from investment in HS2 as those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
The case is clear in the Committee’s findings, and it is indeed compelling. When the Minister responds, I hope he will not merely dismiss it out of hand, but instead consider carefully the many expert opinions in favour of such a move, including the Committee’s recommendations and the thought-provoking speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), and the invaluable contribution from the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards).
The Opposition remain 100% committed to HS2. A Labour Government would listen carefully to local concerns and place environmental factors at the heart of the project, but we would get on with the job at hand. We see new high-speed rail as part of a much larger modernisation of our railways. We would invest in new lines and stations and open up all parts of the UK, and therefore the economy, with affordable, efficient railway services—services that are accessible to all, including young people, people with disabilities and people on low incomes; services that are safe and clean, and services that are integrated across the transport system of walking, cycling, buses, ferries, light railways, trams and road systems. A great example would be the electrified metro for the Swansea Bay city region, which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West so ably championed and which I thoroughly support.
We want significantly more freight off lorries, off our roads and on to the railway, and we would accelerate the electrification of the railway with a rolling programme of upgrades. The Conservative Government’s decision to cancel the electrification of the Great Western main line from Cardiff to Swansea was short-sighted and bad for the environment, and it should now be reversed. It is absurd that the Great Western Railway’s Hitachi bi-mode trains run on diesel mode between Cardiff and Swansea and switch to the less polluting and more efficient electric mode on the rest of the route in England, including as it goes through the wonderful town of Slough.
As the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd rightly noted, in England trains can reach the magic inter-city speed of 125 mph, but once on the Welsh side of the Severn tunnel, they slow to average speeds well below 100 mph—not so much levelling up as slowing down. Will the Minister update us on the Department for Transport’s stalled plans for the electrification of the railway in Wales? The last Labour Government rightly prioritised and invested billions of pounds in modernising our old, inefficient rolling stock. Having achieved that, the priority of the last decade should have been the electrification of our rail lines.
We heard from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) about the significance of the line from Holyhead into England. There has been no mention in the slightest of that being electrified. Those lines have some of the most polluting rolling stock, and we have no alternative in many cases but to use it. That is not the transport infrastructure of the 21st century, which, just days before COP26, is what we should be discussing.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. I recently visited my family and saw the wonders of north Wales, and, although it was lovely to see the scenic countryside on steam railways and the like, what was sorely missing was an electrified rail network. That would greatly benefit the good people of Wales, and that is why there needs to be greater investment in Wales, and in particular in electrification.
The hon. Gentleman said that electrification would benefit the people of Wales. My constituents already benefit from the electrification of the line to Cardiff. I have regularly travelled into London, both before and after I was elected as a Member of this House. The train journey times into Paddington from the main station in my constituency are already about 18 minutes shorter. The decision that electrification would not go as far as Swansea, although disappointing, did allow for immediate investment in new, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly trains. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that people in my constituency in south Wales do currently benefit from electrification?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. However, although his constituents in Bridgend, in south-east Wales, may benefit from the electrified railways towards Bridgend and Cardiff, it is absolutely absurd that people in south-west Wales and beyond are missing out.
It is also absurd that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), who is no longer in his place, and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Dr Wallis) are arguing against more money for Wales. If people in Slough felt that they were missing out on resources and funding, they would be up in arms. The hon. Member can bet his bottom dollar that, if the route through the wonderful town of Slough was not electrified, the likes of me would be constantly arguing that we needed more investment in Slough and more electrification of our rail lines. That is the way we are going to tackle the climate crisis.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. As the Member of Parliament for Bridgend, I am certainly not arguing for less money for Wales, and, were my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) still here, he would be able, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to tell the hon. Gentleman just how many bids had gone in and just how much money we wanted. It is not fair to say that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire, who is no longer here to defend himself, are arguing for less money for our constituents. Our point is that HS2 does benefit the people of Wales, particularly those in mid and north Wales. It benefits the entire economy of the United Kingdom. It is a British project, and therefore the assumption that it should be fully Barnettised is simply not right.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, but Wales is missing out. Some £5 billion of Barnett consequentials is not an insignificant sum. As I have pointed out before, the good people of Scotland and Northern Ireland benefit from Barnett consequentials, and none of the track actually goes through Wales. As has been argued, there is a need to increase the links between mid or north Wales and Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, but as has been pointed out, north to south there is still reliance on steam trains. If that were the situation in Slough, rest assured we would not settle for that. We would ask for more money and our share of resources.
The people of Wales are missing out. That is why the Labour party supports the proposal. It is clear that railway must drive the green revolution, just as it once powered the industrial revolution. Electrification is key. The old fragmented franchise model is dead. The modern railway is still waiting to emerge. Properly funded, publicly owned and strategically led, the railway can become the clean, green, affordable and efficient pride of Great Britain. It can boost our economic recovery after covid-19. It can transport us into the low-carbon and post-carbon economy and it can be a vital part of economic and social renaissance in Wales, but not without the investment we know is needed.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He may already know that between Cardiff and Swansea, where the electrification stops, the air quality deteriorates because of the diesel fumes. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution, and I have measured it—it is up to 5 micrograms per cubic metre in the carriage. People are being exposed to pollution unnecessarily. He will also be aware that Transport for Wales now has the skills infrastructure to deliver on the ground speedily while the Department for Transport has multiple priorities and is focused on HS2. We have the skills, but we need the money. Let us get the job done.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. He has contributed a great deal to the debate on pollution as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution, of which I am a member. I am fully aware of the impact on communities of not having electrified rail infrastructure. I am also aware of the review that the Welsh Government is undertaking on investment in rail across south Wales and beyond, so my hon. Friend makes some apt points.
It is surely wrong that HS2 will reduce the London to Manchester journey time to one hour and 10 minutes but London to Swansea will still take three hours. We must invest in and upgrade the Ebbw valley, the Maesteg lines, the Welsh Marshes line, Cardiff Crossrail and more. Levelling up must be for every part of our United Kingdom: not just Manchester but Milford Haven and Merthyr Tydfil; not just Leeds but Llanelli and Llandudno; not just Birmingham but Bangor and Bridgend. The £5 billion from Barnett consequentials would be a good start. I hope the Minister will give us good news.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions. We all understand the great importance of transport and levelling up the United Kingdom. All the Members spoke eloquently about the need for more transport investment in Wales, an issue that the Welsh Affairs Committee looked at recently.
Let me assure Members that a key focus of the Government is to ensure we have a transport network that is not only fit for purpose but, above all, able to deliver a better and more prosperous future for all those we represent. HS2 is one of the many schemes that the Department for Transport is pursuing. It will free up capacity on the conventional rail network and support a shift of passengers and freight from road to rail. I stand here as the HS2 Minister, convinced that HS2 will play a vital role in levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom. However, as we have heard, HS2 is not the only matter at hand, so I will first focus on rail funding more generally in Wales and other points raised, before turning the HS2.
Let me be clear: we are investing in Wales. The current control period has seen a record £2 billion revenue settlement for Network Rail in Wales. Of that settlement, almost £1 billion will be spent on renewing and upgrading infrastructure to meet the current and future needs of all passengers, such as the complete restoration of the iconic Barmouth viaduct in Gwynedd. Investments in new stations are being made apace, such as at Bow Street in Ceredigion; line enhancements are being made in north, south and mid-Wales; major upgrades are being made to Cardiff Central station; and level crossing upgrades are being made to the Wrexham-Bidston line. That work is happening now, but a lot more is coming down the pipeline, including the opening-up of opportunities for work, travel and leisure for Wales and across the UK.
Members will of course be aware that the interim report of Sir Peter Hendy’s Union connectivity review was published earlier this year. It identified that rail capacity and connectivity issues need to be addressed in north and south Wales. In response, the Prime Minister made £20 million available to assess options on the road and rail schemes, which the review has identified as crucial for cross-border connectivity. I am glad to say that my officials are working closely and collaboratively with the Welsh Government and delivery bodies to identify potential projects to be supported, in line with our continued support for the Welsh Government in their ambition to have greater control over Welsh rail infrastructure. That is evident in our collaborative approach to working with our partners to divest the core valley lines to the Welsh Government. We expect the final Union connectivity review report to be published in the autumn, when the Government will consider Sir Peter’s recommendations to improve connectivity across the UK.
I will touch on a few of the investments that are currently under way. As we speak, important work is going on to transform Cardiff Central station. The rail network enhancements pipeline has allocated funding of £5.8 million to Transport for Wales for that work, supported by funding of £4 million from the Cardiff city deal. The design and business case work is expected to be completed next year, and it is an example of the strong collaboration in place between the UK and Welsh Governments.
The Cambrian line upgrade will bring the line’s digital signalling up to date. That much-needed upgrade will in turn enable the introduction of new trains and allow the system to work seamlessly with other digital signalling schemes. Further funding for that upgrade has been allocated to deliver the work by May 2022. A third example of a recent project is the Conwy valley line, which includes the longest single-track railway tunnel in the UK. Some £17 million was spent to repair and restore it, making it fit for passengers again after multiple floods in the past five years.
Such projects have an enormous effect on communities, and I know that there will be many more enhancements in the years to come. The north Wales metro strategy board has been established by Transport for Wales to integrate the proposals for transport improvements in the region, building on the exciting opportunities highlighted by those at Growth Track 360, for example, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and I met last year, to transform north Wales and deliver 70,000 new jobs over the next 20 years.
The Department for Transport and Network rail are supporting the work of the board in providing advice on progression of the programme. There are plans to reduce journey times on the north Wales coastline between Crewe and Holyhead. The outline business case proposes an increase in line speeds, with the goal of improving journey times between north Wales, the north-west of England and other major UK centres.
Transport for Wales has recently commissioned a further strategic study into timetable optimisation and connectivity into northern powerhouse rail and HS2. It will also consider the case for further infrastructure enhancements including decarbonisation options for the line. Finally, in March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed funding of £30 million for the establishment of a global centre for rail excellence in Wales.
All the schemes that the Minister has mentioned are extremely noble, but what is the total percentage allocated to Wales in the control period? Is the reality not that, compared with investments across the rest of the UK, especially in HS2, Wales is being offered crumbs under the table?
It is fine. The Network Rail regulatory financial statements and expenditure breakdowns show that Wales received around 4% of all Network Rail spending in 2011-12 to 2015-16, and 6% in 2016-17 to 2018-19. In 2018-19, the spend on Wales was 6.1% of the England and Wales figure, or 5.4% of the England, Wales and Scotland figure. The figures include Network Rail’s spending on operations, maintenance, renewals and enhancements. Does that clarify the hon. Gentleman’s point?
We understand that to be the total spend, but we also understand that the spend on investments, development and improvements is where the spend in Wales is so much spectacularly lower than we would expect, in terms of the 11% of the rail infrastructure that we have and in comparison with the conventional Barnett formula of per head of population.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her point. The UK Government work collaboratively with the Welsh Government on putting forward business cases. As she will be aware, we do not allocate set proportions by region across the United Kingdom; we work on where the enhancements deliver the best possible value. We have worked collaboratively with the Welsh Government to bring forward a number of business cases for further investments. We hope to continue to do so. The figures I have just outlined show that an increasing proportion of the Network Rail budget is spent in Wales—something I am sure the right hon. Lady would welcome.
I want to be clear on this, because that, of course, includes Barmouth Bridge in my constituency, which is more than 150 years old. We will have to do work on it, if it is to be maintained as a line. I take issue with the Minister on levelling up. I rarely find myself trying to argue the Union point, as I do here, but if we are talking about levelling up, those areas of the United Kingdom that most need infrastructure will not receive it unless it is given by central Government. Wales is a classic example of this, yet we see that infrastructure investment in railway, the electricity grid and all the infrastructure needs we will have in the future to change to net zero—those are the areas where Wales is lacking. I would welcome the Minister showing us his future intentions on these arguments.
On this point we are going to have to agree to some extent to disagree. Through the Union connectivity review, the Government are demonstrating their real desire to invest more. We are investing record sums in rail across the whole United Kingdom. The £4.8 billion levelling up fund, of which at least £800 million will be allocated to projects in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland underlines the Government’s commitment. Changes to the Green Book will directly help projects in Wales in the way that I hope they will help projects in the north of England, where my constituency of Pendle is located.
I think we all share a desire for projects to be moved forward at pace. As a Rail Minister, I will not argue against even more investment in rail, but the statistics I have put on record today show that we are working collaboratively with the Welsh Government in order to deliver significant projects that the right hon. Lady’s constituents and other constituents want to see across Wales.
The Minister will know that, having left the European Union, Wales will no longer benefit from convergence funding of the order of billions of pounds and that the UK shared prosperity fund has not kicked in to do anything about that. He will also know that convergence funding is focused on alleviating poverty through building skills and productivity and employment opportunities. He has also mentioned that the Department for Transport reaches its criteria on the basis of best value, as opposed to the criteria for convergence funding. Therefore, will he look again at those criteria, given that we are losing convergence funding based on poverty and building productivity, as opposed to best value, which just rewards existing productivity? In particular, given that his list of projects seems to end at Cardiff and, of course, west of Cardiff, there is a lot of Wales with a lot of needs. As has been pointed out, if we had had our fair share of HS2, we would have had another £5 billion, which is a lot more than the totality of what he is talking about.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to go on to matters that may be covered in the spending review or the Budget on convergence funding and other issues. I do not wish to tempt fate by speculating about what may be announced later this week.
I will just return to the points that were made by several Members in relation to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report on rail infrastructure in Wales. The report emphasised that it is clear that a joined-up approach to Welsh infrastructure needs is required in order to unlock investment. Therefore, we have responded positively to the Committee’s recommendation for a Wales rail board and are currently working with the Welsh Government to establish that. The board will build on the excellent collaborative arrangements in place between the two Governments to address the effects of the pandemic on transport in Wales and across the border.
I have tried to cover in detail some of the rail projects and proposals that are in the pipeline; there are many more that I could mention. I wanted to do that to give right hon. and hon. Members a sense of the momentum that is building behind this work. We all want the same thing: for Wales to benefit from improved transport infrastructure that will increase productivity and give people a greener way to travel, leading in many cases to a better quality of life.
My Department has also been working closely with the Welsh Government on identifying road investment priorities along the border between Wales and England. This work has secured joint funding from both Administrations for National Highways to develop the long-mooted A483 Pant-Llanymynech bypass. We hope that further joint funding will be made available for its construction and to examine the options for other priority cross-border links. Also, the UK-wide levelling-up fund, which I mentioned before, will invest £4.8 billion in local infrastructure, including local transport, regeneration and culture, over the four years between 2021 and 2025, and at least £800 million of that will go to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Finally, I turn to HS2. HS2 is a low-carbon transport system for the future. It will take lorries off the road, benefiting the whole of the UK in the future and playing a role in achieving our transition to a carbon net zero future by 2050. HS2 will also contribute to sustainable growth in towns, cities and regions across the country, spreading prosperity and opportunity more evenly.
Let me start by saying something about the costs of HS2, because they were mentioned by the hon. Member for Swansea West and other Members. The phase 1 full business case, published in April 2020, set out the full cost of the HS2 network at £98 billion—a figure that is, of course, subject to decisions that will be made shortly in the integrated rail plan. Phase 1 has a target cost of £40.3 billion, and my parliamentary report last week showed that, despite covid, delivery remains on track and within budget. The project also retains cross-party support from the three main UK political parties.
I recognise that there is some concern, which we have heard again in this debate from several hon. Members, that Wales may not benefit from HS2, with the recent Welsh Affairs Committee report recommending that HS2 be reclassified as an England-only project. However, the regenerative effects of HS2 will be felt across the whole of the UK and not just along the line of route. As the Welsh Affairs Committee report acknowledged, the project has several thousand jobs as part of its supply chain that span the UK, including Wales. More than 20 businesses in numerous Welsh constituencies have already won work for HS2, including businesses in Bridgend, Montgomeryshire and Swansea West. For example, I understand that Wernick Buildings, a business based in Port Talbot, has already worked on HS2. Hon. Members can review the HS2 supply chain map to see the geographical spread of the businesses that have delivered work on HS2, including in their own constituencies.
On the services side, HS2 will enable quicker and more train services to north Wales. The HS2 route to Crewe, for which the west midlands-Crewe section gained Royal Assent in February, will provide shorter journey times for passengers, benefiting those who are interchanging at Crewe. Such shorter journey times are currently possible on the west coast main line to Holyhead. HS2 will also free up capacity on the existing west coast main line, which could of course be used for additional services, including for rail freight, which will remove lorries from the UK road network.
Also, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), HS2 will dramatically increase capacity for Birmingham, which of course will free up capacity on the existing lines. That will benefit my hon. Friend’s constituency.
Turning to the Barnett point made by several right hon. and hon. Members, the fundamental difference with Scotland is that the Department for Transport has responsibility for heavy rail infrastructure policy across England and Wales and therefore spends money on heavy rail infrastructure in Wales, rather than providing Barnett-based funding to the Welsh Government in relation to heavy rail spending in England. That is consistent with the funding arrangements for all of the reserved UK Government responsibilities and within the statement of funding policy.
However, due to the use of departmental comparability factors in the Barnett formula spending reviews, the Welsh Government have actually received a significant uplift in their Barnett-based funding due to the UK Government spending on HS2. I hope that reassures Members as to why there is a difference. I have set out how we are expanding the amount of network rail funding that is going into Wales. On top of that, there have been significant Barnett consequentials provided to the Welsh Government.
To conclude and to reiterate, investing in Welsh transport infrastructure is an investment in future generations. Ensuring that our transport capability matches our great ambitions for our constituents’ prosperity and wellbeing is a priority for the Government, and one that I know all Members across the House share. We owe it to our hard-working constituents to invest in the most sustainable forms of transport for the future, delivering both on the green industrial revolution and on our pledge to build back better from the events of the past two years.
This has been a very good debate. The Minister hit the nail on the head when he spoke of the structural difference in responsibility between Scotland and Wales. The Scottish Government have got responsibility for heavy investment. If we had that in the Welsh Government, we would have our £5 billion. It is still technically possible that if the comparability factors were changed in the formula to be an England-only project, which it could be, we would also have the £5 billion there. Nobody is saying that we are getting no investment in Wales, but we are trying to head towards net zero, deliver higher productivity and level up. I ask the Minister and his Department to think again, to lobby the Chancellor to change the formula and to give Wales the tools to do the job, getting us on the rails to a higher, more prosperous future. I thank all Members and you, Sir Edward, for chairing the debate. It will continue, because we are simply not getting our fair share, and we need it in order to succeed.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered transport funding for Wales and HS2.
Public Health Funding: Bexley
I beg to move,
That this House has considered public health funding in Bexley.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward—I have a long-standing friend in the Chair, which is always good news. I am grateful of the opportunity to raise public health issues, which are of great concern and importance to my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford, as well as to the residents of Bexley borough in general. I am delighted to see my neighbour and friend the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) in her place today.
In my opinion, Bexley is by far the best place in London to live, work or visit. We have great local amenities, considerable green open spaces, over 100 parks, and a variety of places to visit: Danson Park, Hall Place and Gardens, and the Red House, to name just a few. It is a well-run, Conservative-led borough, and I am pleased to live in Barnehurst myself, in the constituency.
Today I want to focus on the public health situation in Bexley and highlight a number of concerns about funding. This is a matter that I have raised before and held meetings with Ministers about, but regrettably it has not yet been satisfactorily addressed. There are areas of public health in which Bexley does better than elsewhere in England, but also a number in which we are lagging behind.
I commend the work done locally, particularly by Bexley Council and Bexley clinical commissioning group, which have done some fantastic work over the years on so many issues, particularly against smoking. The Bexley stop smoking services help thousands of people to stop smoking, which is saving lives and improving our community’s overall quality of life. The service has won a number of awards and was recognised by Public Health England for reducing smoking rates and introducing highly effective tobacco control initiatives. During the covid-19 pandemic, the team continued to provide specialist weekly support on the phone, and over the last year they have helped some 534 people to quit smoking.
That is a real achievement, yet in other areas we are not so fortunate. In Bexley we have problems such as obesity. Action is needed to improve the situation. For Bexley residents, obesity poses a significant challenge, as we have among the highest rates of obesity anywhere in London, with 23.4% of children classed as overweight or obese when they start primary school. This is a really concerning figure, which continues to rise as they get older, with 36.6% of children aged 10 to 11 leaving primary school with excess weight.
It is widely recognised by experts that once weight is gained, it is difficult to lose. The Government have called childhood obesity one of the top public health challenges for this generation. This is most certainly the case for the residents of Bexley. Children who are obese are five times more likely to be obese as adults. This can put them at increased risk of long-term health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions, and can negatively impact on mental health, which is a real problem. In Bexley, 64.6% of adults aged 18 or over have excess weight, which is higher than in the rest of England and London in particular.
The Government are well aware of the problems associated with obesity nationally and are being proactive to address the concerns. Some of the welcome measures include the soft drinks industry levy, support for the Healthy Start voucher scheme to enable low-income families to buy fruit and vegetables, and action to increase physical activity in schools, but we also need a localised approach. It is in all our interests to live in a healthier borough, and in Bexley the local authority is always looking at innovative ways to help us live better and longer.
The Bexley obesity strategy does just that. Between 2020 and 2025, the strategy aims to reduce the rate of excess weight in children and adults by a minimum of 2%, with a stretch target of 5%, and to create healthy environments at school, in workplaces and throughout the borough. Just a few of the plans to achieve that include increasing the number of food businesses achieving the healthier catering commitment accreditation, developing a sustainable model for community cooking classes, reviewing compliance with school food standards across the borough, and installing public water fountains in town centres. While that will require hard work and dedication, it will also, as the Minister will be aware, require additional funding.
Aside from the work on stopping smoking and action to reduce childhood and adult obesity, Bexley of course has many other clear public health priorities, including diabetes, dementia, addiction and substance misuse, including alcohol. Mental health and children and young people’s emotional wellbeing are key public health challenges, on top of the additional challenges that the covid-19 pandemic continues to pose. However, good health also underpins a healthy economy. Bexley Council has a significant role to play in helping all Bexley residents to start well, live well and age well. That is why Bexley so desperately needs the unfairness in the public health funding formula to be looked at and addressed.
I thank the right hon. Member for bringing forward the debate, which is very much needed in Bexley. As he has highlighted, Bexley’s public health grant is considerably lower per head than that of other London boroughs. My constituency includes part of Greenwich and Bexley. Does he agree that the Government should ensure that the public health allocation formula is updated, to guarantee that all his and my constituents have access to the high-quality public health services that they need?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, my constituency neighbour, for raising that point. I totally agree, which is why we have the debate today. I am pleased she is here to reinforce the point for Bexley, and I am sure the Minister will be listening.
I have been provided with figures by Bexley Council to highlight inequalities in the public health grant received. The public health grant allocation for Bexley in 2021-22 is just under £10 million. That equates to a per head allocation of £39.84, giving Bexley the lowest funding across London. The average funding per head in London is £74.87. Therefore, Bexley’s mere £39.84 is just 53.2% of the London average, and a staggering £35 less per head.
To put that in perspective, if Bexley were to receive the same allocation as the London average, it would mean an additional £8.8 million for Bexley. That situation cannot be fair and puts our area at a significant disadvantage. Even if Bexley were funded at the same level as the second lowest London borough—Havering, across the Thames, and a very similar borough—an extra £750,000 would be added to Bexley’s allocation.
If we compare Bexley with other south-east London boroughs, the situation does not look good. If Bexley were funded at the average of all six south-east London boroughs—Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Lambeth—it would result in an extra £8.25 million for Bexley. If Bexley were not included in the south-east London average and funded at that rate, it would mean an extra £9.9 million for our borough. If Bexley were funded in line with our neighbouring borough of Bromley, which receives £45.13 per head, it would see an additional £1.3 million for Bexley’s total allocation.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead, our other neighbouring borough, Greenwich, has a grant allocation of £81.14 per head, which is more than double Bexley’s allocation. If Bexley were funded at Greenwich’s level, it would mean an additional £10.3 million for Bexley. I would point out, as the hon. Lady said, that Bexley and Greenwich share the town of Thamesmead, an area I represented in Parliament up until 1997. That is a community with some of our most complex and entrenched inequalities. Extra funding for Bexley would help to deal with those on the Bexley side of the Thamesmead divide.
Of the 151 local authorities in England, there are only 20 other local authorities with a lower per head grant allocation than Bexley. The main hindrance to Bexley is that the allocations granted remain largely dependent on historical patterns of spend before local authorities took over responsibility for public health. Although there have been years when the grant has increased, for which we are grateful, and other years when the grant has not increased or has been reduced, which we are not so happy with, no progress has been made towards tackling the issue of a fair and rational allocation for Bexley.
The result is that Bexley’s public health funding does not reflect its current population, public health needs or its ambitions to reduce health inequality. That has to be addressed by the Government. The covid-19 pandemic has worsened our position and exacerbated the conditions of poor health in Bexley, especially in the north of our borough, where there are the greatest levels of pre-existing, underlying health inequalities. Covid-19 has also disproportionately impacted and exacerbated the health inequalities of our growing black, Asian and minority ethnic population, and our over-75 population, which is higher than the London average.
Bexley has also seen some of the highest covid-19 case rates in London, which reflects the underlying issues caused by the lower public health grant and therefore lower investment in public health measures to counteract the effects of disproportionality and inequality. Even the pandemic response in Bexley, which covers outbreak management, surveillance, monitoring, communications and engagement, community testing and contact tracing, would not have been possible without the additional grants made available by the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Other local authorities have more in-built capacity and workforce resilience, which allows them to divert resources to address a future health protection challenge, such as a major epidemic, or the pandemic that we are currently experiencing. Bexley does not have the flexibility in the core public health capacity.
We are also currently seeing the development of the NHS South East London integrated care system. The ICS has set out its key priorities to be tackling health inequalities, prevention, and improving the health and wellbeing of residents. Each place-based system will play a significant role in delivering those priorities. With Bexley having such a low base for the public health grant, it will be extremely difficult to achieve parity with what the other south-east London boroughs can offer their residents due to significantly higher budgets. That alone will create further inequalities and highlights the importance of levelling-up grant allocation.
Bexley experiences the same public health challenges as other London boroughs and has an ambitious prevention strategy. Bexley’s prevention strategy is a whole-system, five-year plan to prevent illness and poor health and social care outcomes, as well as to actively promote a positive state of health and wellbeing for our residents. However, its funding allocation does not allow us the same opportunities to make positive changes to residents’ lives.
Bexley is a diverse, quickly changing and growing borough. It is a collection of communities working together and it is a great place. We anticipate a 7.6% population increase by 2030 and a 7.2% increase in the number of children living in Bexley. Some 30% of Bexley’s residents are young people under the age of 25, and Bexley has the fourth highest rate of people aged 65 and over in London, at 16.5%. That will increase to 21.8% by 2050. Our infant mortality rate is also 3.7 per 1,000 population and our neonatal maternity rate is 2.75 per 100,000, both of which are higher than the London average.
Hospital admissions for young people due to substance misuse are higher than the London average and our vaccination rates for childhood illnesses and for adult vaccinations, such as flu, are nationally lower. We have done a great job during the covid situation and our health service, our council and the doctors and pharmacists have done a fantastic job on vaccinations.
Indeed I will. I had my booster two weeks ago. I think it is very, very important that people should get the vaccine, whether it is the first or second jab or the booster. That is the only way we are going to defeat this terrible disease and pandemic, and I totally endorse what the hon. Lady said.
Bexley is very fortunate to have excellent leadership on Bexley Council, both from officials and the political leadership under Councillor Teresa O’Neill OBE. I have worked with Councillor O’Neill over many years on many different campaigns, including to highlight public health issues and quality of life. We have met Ministers and been involved in debates here before, but this time we really need some action. Teresa and I are working very hard to persuade the Government that they need to look at the formula for public health funding for outer London boroughs such as Bexley.
Bexley desperately needs our grant to be urgently reviewed and redressed to reflect our needs and to support our constituents. I know that Bexley Council is appreciative of the national real-terms increase in public health grant allocations for 2020 to 2022. However, this historic funding issue needs to be addressed so that we can be a lead on the challenges we have today, and those we face ahead. Bexley Council is innovative, takes the initiative and leads in many fields. We want to do it here too, but without additional funding we cannot. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take these representations on board and to take action to ensure that my borough of Bexley gets a fair deal in public health funding for the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Sir David Evennett) for raising the important issue of public health. I was delighted to hear of the many measures his local council is already taking on this issue.
This debate has provided an opportunity to clarify an often misunderstood position about how funding for public health is distributed. The Government fully appreciate and share the commitment to prevention and improving the health of the population highlighted today. Improvements in life expectancy appear to have stalled and, on average, 20% of our lives are spent in poor health, with people in the most deprived communities at far higher risk of poor health. The gap in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of England is around 19 years for both sexes. Helping people to stay well, in work and in their own homes for longer is vital.
Ill health is not randomly distributed, nor is it inevitable. Our ability to avoid, manage and survive disease is influenced by the choices we make, the job we do, the air we breathe and the neighbourhood in which we live. Service funding is only one of the levers available to us to support better health. For example, our obesity strategy works alongside local public health efforts in reducing childhood obesity. Our overarching goal is to create a healthier environment, helping to improve people’s diets and to make the healthier choice the easier choice. The actions that the Government have taken on this can be seen in people’s daily lives.
For example, since the soft drinks industry levy came into effect, the average sugar content of drinks has decreased by 43.7%. We have also legislated to introduce out-of-home calorie labelling in April 2022, to help people be more informed about the food that they are eating. Moreover, we have put in place regulations to restrict the promotion by volume and location of products high in fat, salt and sugar in supermarkets, which will come into force in October 2022. In June 2021, we confirmed that at the end of 2022 we will introduce both a 9 pm watershed for television advertisements of HFSS products and a restriction of paid-for advertising of HFSS products online. All of these national measures will have a local impact and will undoubtedly help those living in Bexley.
We recognise that the funding position for local authorities is challenging and we understand the huge efforts that local government has made to focus on securing the best value for every pound it spends. Today’s debate has highlighted an important issue about the distribution of funding for local authority public health functions. Prior to 2013, funding for individual local health services, including public health, was determined by NHS primary care trusts. As for all local authorities, Bexley London Borough Council’s allocation is heavily based on historical NHS spend prior to 2013.
However, the introduction of the public health grant to local authorities in 2013 has meant that spending on this set of services is now much more transparent. Before these functions were transferred to local government, we asked the independent Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation to develop a needs-based formula for distribution of the public health grant. The introduction of this formula meant that some local authorities received more than their target allocation, and others received funding under target. In 2013-14 and 2014-15, when the overall grant was subject growth, local authorities’ funding was iterated closer to their target through a mechanism called “pace of change”. Bexley Council benefited from this policy and received the maximum amount of funding growth, which I am sure my right hon. Friend appreciated.
The Government decided in 2015 that the fairest way to make subsequent changes to public health grant allocations was via flat percentage adjustments. Since 2019-20, adjustments have been made to the grant to take account of additional cost pressures such as the 2018 NHS “Agenda for Change” pay deal and the launch of routine pre-exposure prophylaxis—PrEP—commissioning, with all local authorities receiving a cash increase last year and this year to the public health grant, so that they can continue to invest in prevention and essential health services. For this financial year, Bexley Council received more than £9 million for the grant. We also allocated additional funding of £358,000 to Bexley this year to tackle obesity and drug addiction.
Nationally, the Government have made more than £12 billion available to local councils since the start of the pandemic to address the costs and impacts of covid-19, with £6 billion non-ringfenced in recognition of local authorities being best placed to decide how to manage the major covid-19 pressures in their local areas. I thank the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) for mentioning the covid booster vaccine and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford for having it, which is probably the most important thing that people can do to continue to build our wall of defence, protect lives and reduce hospitalisations from the pandemic. While Bexley’s per capita funding is different from other London boroughs, a per capita basis is not a meaningful way to compare or determine allocations, as it takes no account of different levels of need. We will consider the allocation of public health grant funding for future years following the outcome of the spending review; we do not have long to wait.
I commend all local authorities on their efforts to improve population health. Local authorities are ideally placed to make decisions about the services that best meet the needs of their populations. Across England, local authorities are commissioning more effectively and innovatively and delivering improved value, but we need to acknowledge that improving public health is about far more than only the grant. We know that spending more money does not necessarily improve outcomes. However, what we spend it on really matters. The whole range of local government activity, including transport, planning and housing, all contribute to population health and wellbeing. The place-based work led by local authorities makes joining up these different factors much easier, and the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities supports all areas of the country to drive improvements in health.
We are listening with great interest and are very grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. However, I urge her to look seriously at the funding for boroughs that have a change in demography, because Bexley is a different place from what it was in 2013. We are well led and innovative, so value for money is a top priority for the council.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, nothing is ever static. We can look forward to having those discussions after the spending review.
The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities has a particular focus on those places and communities where ill health is most prevalent. I thank everybody in Bexley for their dedication to improving the health of people in their area. I am committed to working closely with colleagues in national Government and local government and with partners to ensure that the public health needs of the present and future are met. This has been an extremely important debate. I am delighted that Bexley Council is taking forward so many measures to improve the health of its population.
Question put and agreed to.
GP Appointment Availability
[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered GP appointment availability.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Robertson. The chances of misdiagnosis can increase dramatically if GPs rely on emails or telephone calls exclusively. I speak from experience: for days, my mother-in-law was misdiagnosed as having a urinary tract infection, when she had actually suffered a severe stroke. Precious time was lost, and terrible damage done, because she was not seen by a GP. For every 100 ailments that can be diagnosed safely without seeing a GP, there will be one that cannot—one that could prove to be fatal, which is not a price worth paying.
I thank NHS workers and GPs for working tirelessly throughout the pandemic. I was encouraged to apply for this debate by my constituents, who came to see me again and again about this issue. I wanted to make sure that their voice was heard. I will read out some of their actual cases, because it is important to hear from them about what they have been experiencing. I would say that they are divided into two categories. The first is those who are disabled and perhaps suffer from dementia or other cognitive impairments, who find talking on the phone very difficult, and who really need to see a GP in person. The second is those who are happy to speak over the phone when they need a GP appointment, but find that the IT systems in place in certain GP surgeries cause issues with access to GPs.
The first example is from Marlow. A lady wrote to me and asked for an appointment to see me. She said:
“When I got through to the surgery, we were told that we should have a telephone appointment first. The GPs have my daughter’s number, as she cares for her grandmother. I explained that we do not live with her and cannot sit at her house and wait for a call. Also, there was a phone for her to sit around all day, and no one answers. She isn’t good with IT and has trouble explaining and expressing herself and telling someone what is wrong over the phone. I understand we are in extremely unusual circumstances, but there has to be exceptions, and there must be a way for elderly, and in some cases disabled, people to be able to get an appointment. Many do not have the capability to use the internet, and even phones in some cases.”
That was particularly true in the case of my mother-in-law, who had had a stroke. Luckily, we had power of attorney, but many people do not. I appreciate that the Government have made great strides in this regard, but we need to look at how we can protect those who are disabled, who perhaps have cognitive impairments and who need to have a carer come with them to a GP surgery in order to express what is wrong and explain what condition they have. Greater attention should be paid to this in the future.
We also have the issue of general IT and phone challenges. A resident in Farnham Common wrote to me and said:
“We have difficulty making the initial contact with GP surgeries. Most GPs operate a system which requires the patient to telephone when the surgery opens at 7 am to seek a consultation for that day. In our collective experience, it is often extremely difficult to get through. It takes a very long period of repeated calling. One friend recorded 140 unsuccessful attempts to reach the GP surgery.”
Some of the GP surgeries in my constituency are excellent. They were excellent during the vaccine roll-out and through covid, but we have certain GP surgeries that have had challenges meeting residents, challenges with the vaccine roll-out, and challenges in general throughout the covid period. Quite a number of residents have written to me and spoken to me about Burnham Health Centre, so I want to share specifically the IT challenges that it seems to face consistently.
One resident, Colin, said that if you are lucky enough to be 29th in the queue that morning at 7 am, you may get a message that says no appointments are left for the day. You can hang on in silence, or you may get to speak to a person—you may get through to a human being. You are told that there are no appointments and that you need to use Patient Access. When you try to book an appointment via Patient Access, it gives you possible ways to book, but only for things like contraceptive appointments, and nothing else. When Colin tried to access Patient Access, he was given an electronic form which he completed several times. It kept coming back saying that it could not be processed. He tried dozens of times and finally gave up and decided that Patient Access was not working.
He was not the only resident in Burnham who complained about Burnham Health Centre and Patient Access; several more wrote to me about the same issue. One said:
“I do think it’s ridiculous that you cannot get an appointment when you call, I am happy to wait a day or two, if it is urgent, there is always 111. The practice of releasing a limited amount of appointments at a certain time is not fair and just causes a bun fight. I do think the staff would benefit from customer service training”—
for everyone’s benefit.
A set amount of appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis. This seems to be unique to this GP surgery, but it has become a very agitating issue for people in the area who already suffer from some health inequality. They perhaps do not have the financial ability to go privately. Many are older and vulnerable, and it is demoralising that they often cannot get hold of a GP for even a phone call and consultation. Just getting a phone call would be a positive step in certain cases in my patch.
The hon. Lady is making really good points on this massively important issue. She just remarked that it was unique to where she is. Not at all; I have similar issues and I am sure other Members will talk about their issues. It is so important. Does she agree that the difficulty people have in accessing GPs has a knock-on effect on the National Health Service in other areas? We see people going to A&E out of frustration, because they cannot see their GP. This is really a problem that needs to be tackled head on. I congratulate the hon. Lady on introducing the debate to put pressure on exactly that.
I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. I agree that the problem has a trickle-down effect throughout the NHS. We will see more people presenting at A&E and perhaps with more advanced stages of disease, because they have not been seen in person. Encouraging GPs or creating a covid incentive programme for them to see people in person will decrease the amount of hospital admissions and lead to earlier diagnosis for cancer and heart disease. These things can really only be done in person. If someone is healthy and just needs a phone appointment, that is fine, but certain things cannot be seen unless a person’s vitals—their heart pressure—can be physically checked. Only a GP can do that and really only in person. If we want to reduce the overall burden on the NHS this winter, finding a safe and secure way for more residents to see their GP will reduce the overall pressure long term on the NHS. I know we have an aging population, and that GPs are under huge amounts of pressure and strain, but I believe there is a way we can work together to find a solution.
The hon. Lady said that only a GP can check someone’s blood pressure. We know that many people can undertake many of the different clinical functions that a GP is asked to undertake. Is it not right, therefore, to look at a multidisciplinary clinical team and how to deploy it better, rather than just to focus on the GP?
The hon. Lady is stealing my thunder, but I agree with that comment. With the multi-disciplinary approach, even nurse practitioners and others could be recruited into a GP surgery structure, to help with many of the ailments that people are presenting at A&E with or asking for an appointment about. There is a wide range of healthcare professionals who could help and support GPs, and I think this is an important issue that needs to be further discussed and debated.
When this matter came before the House in July, several relevant questions were raised. One of them was about NHS England and NHS Improvement, or NHSEI, which leads the programme of work support practices, using digital and online tools to widen access. I would just love to hear what progress has been made since this topic was debated in July. Also, what is the progress of NHSEI’s independent evaluation of GP appointments? Again, I would like to see whether we have had any progress on that independent evaluation. Finally, what is being done by the NHSEI access improvement programme to support practices where patients are experiencing the greatest access challenges, such as drops in appointment provision, long waiting times, poor patient experiences or difficulties in embedding new ways of working related to covid-19, such as remote consultations as part of triage? I would really welcome any updates on those questions.
We could perhaps discuss today how we can provide GPs and their surgeries with some kind of in-person patient incentive during covid. Perhaps that could come from existing regional funding streams. Perhaps each time a GP sees a patient in person, they could receive an extra payment, or they could receive an additional payment for visiting someone in their home. That would mitigate the additional cost of PPE and also the additional risk posed to the GP themselves by having to see people in person during covid or high levels of winter flu.
Some GP surgeries are already receiving additional funding for cervical cancer and diabetes screening, and we have seen uptake increased in those areas very successfully, so this type of programme has been modelled in the past. It would help to mitigate the risk and burden for GPs, while still getting as many of our constituents as possible into in-person appointments if they need them.
The NHS claims that it would like more patients treated at home rather than having to stay in hospital for extended periods of time. This model could be enhanced if GPs were given the financial incentive to carry out in-home treatments for patients who traditionally would have remained in hospital. Obviously, this allocation would have to be set by the integrated care system in each region and it would be decided on within regional NHS structures, but it is worth considering.
In my own personal experience with my mother-in-law, she has been at home all the time 24/7. She is now completely disabled and needs 24-hour care, but the most difficult challenge was the out-of-hospital care provision—getting the GP, the hospital and the council to co-ordinate the care effectively. It is a full-time job for someone to co-ordinate that care. If we can make those pathways of care and co-ordination easier for everyone, then, as was said earlier in the debate, it would reduce the overall pressure on the NHS.
Does the hon. Lady share my concerns about the provision in the Health and Care Bill for the assessment of patients to take place after they have been discharged from hospital instead of before, as happens at the moment? I have very serious concerns about that issue. I tabled a couple of parliamentary questions, which were answered by a different Minister to the one who is here in Westminster Hall today. One question was about the fact that this discharge-to-assess approach has been going on under the Coronavirus Act; I asked how many patients had been discharged that way. The reply came back that 4 million patients had been discharged from hospital without having their assessment. I asked how many of those had been readmitted within 30 days; the Minister replied that the Government did not know because the information was not held nationally.
This is a very serious concern, because we are talking about vulnerable people. I know the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is talking about a particular relative. The idea that somebody with dementia, or early-stage dementia that has not been fully diagnosed yet, should be discharged before their needs are fully understood is very alarming. An independent review of this is going on at the moment, and I would be grateful if the Minister could give us an idea when that is going to be published. It is meant to be this autumn. I would like to raise this with the Minister as a very serious issue and wondered if she would like to comment on it.
I recall the Member speaking on this topic previously. I commented only because of my personal experience. The change is well intended, and I understand where it is coming from, but for a disabled person, and for someone who cannot advocate for their own care needs, having a care plan in place before leaving hospital helps with accountability and the structure of the care. From my own personal experience, as someone who has taken care of a very disabled relative who cannot advocate for herself, I can only say that having this agreed before she came out of hospital made it easier for our family to co-ordinate the care. It is difficult to know which funding pathway is linked to what care once someone leaves hospital; there is a statutory responsibility, but then there is the question of who picks up the care once that period out of hospital has finished. For someone who is disabled, has had a stroke or requires long-term rehabilitation, that is a very sticky issue because whichever organisation within the health structure picks up the statutory duty picks up a huge cost. I think it is a very nuanced issue and we need another debate on it to flesh out all the different challenges. However, I take on board the comments made by the hon. Member for Wirral West and recall supporting what she said when she spoke several months ago.
I understand that these are unprecedented times, and there are great challenges for everyone across the health sector. This is not to criticise anyone; it is just about how we can positively move forward into the new covid era in which we find ourselves, and into the winter months when there are more challenges. It is about how we can work together to find solutions, particularly for the vulnerable, the disabled and those who cannot advocate for their own care needs. I am very grateful that we have been given time to debate this topic.
I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate today. Like her, I have had communication from a number of constituents who are concerned about the lack of face-to-face appointments. It definitely is an issue. We have to be careful that we do not have a knee-jerk reaction. I also think there are benefits to a hybrid approach; I have a chronic health condition, but I would actually rather have a telephone conversation. The other important point is that a survey by the British Medical Association in August found that half of GPs had faced verbal abuse in the previous month alone, and most GPs had witnessed abuse directed at, in particular, reception staff. This is certainly borne out by the conversations I have had at surgeries in my constituency in Batley and Birkenshaw. Does the hon. Lady agree that this is extremely concerning and totally unacceptable, and that we must call out abuse directed at those in public service?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comment. In my constituency we have GPs who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and have done so much to roll out the vaccine—I commend them for everything they have done in such an incredible way. This is not to disparage the wonderful work of the majority of GPs and GP’s surgeries. I am looking for the correct terminology. There are certain GP’s surgeries that have struggled to even respond to constituents with phone calls. Many would be satisfied with just a phone call, but they cannot even reach their GP to schedule a phone call appointment.
Does my hon. Friend share the concern of many of my constituents that there is to some degree a postcode lottery in the national health service and the GP service? Different GP surgeries and different areas provide very different levels of service, whether that is face-to-face or there is a lack of that.
I would agree with that. Some GP surgeries, in certain parts of my constituency, are excellent—they were excellent with the vaccine roll-out; they are excellent now; they have done everything in their power to see as many constituents as possible—and then there are certain others, in the Iver and Burnham areas, where we continually have complaints, where constituents come to me in desperation because they have nowhere else to go.
We need to find a way of giving health access to everyone in a fair and reasonable way. I promised my constituents that I would raise their concerns at the highest level, and I have done that today, both in Westminster Hall and with the Minister directly. I thank Members for their time today, and I hope that this issue will continue to be considered and debated within Parliament and by the Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. I thank the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) for calling today’s important debate. Let me set out the challenge, and how Government can make a difference.
York Medical Group has 44,000 patients on its books. In a single calendar month, it received 41,000 calls from people who needed to see a clinician—unprecedented demand, with higher acuity, co-morbidity and complex needs. When patients get through to the call-handling system, they are triaged and, when urgent attention is needed, that is followed up by a clinical conversation. Appointments are allocated, tests are ordered, referrals are made, and prescriptions are issued.
Of course, people are also applying to see a practitioner through the internet or are turning up at the surgery. That is managed by exceptional staff, who are really pulling out all the stops to support their local community. However, this logistical agility to meet the serious demand is outstripped by the pressures placed on it. When spending time embedded in the system—as I did, spending time with call handlers and with GPs—I saw how relentless they were in trying to meet that demand, but that demand is continuing to put pressure on them.
My constituency is only 25 miles from my hon. Friend’s. A constituent came to see me last week; they could not get an appointment with their GP, but were told to go to the accident and emergency department in Leeds. It took two hours at the A&E to be triaged, and they were then told it would be a further six to seven hours to see a doctor. They ended up going home because it was too cold at the hospital to wait. Does this issue not impose pressure right across our health system, to the point that it is near collapse? Winter has not even properly started yet.
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. We cannot look at part of the health service without looking at the entire health service, and the pressures that are brought to bear. As we have heard, many people do go to their A&E or urgent care centre, because that is the only way that they know they can confidently access the service, which puts more pressure on those parts of the service. We must look at the whole.
However, when it comes to trying to engage with our community practitioners—that is what primary care is all about: people who would traditionally have known the patient and the family—medicine has changed so much, yet we have not caught up with where it is. I saw both the call handlers and the GPs facing burnout. They are reducing the number of sessions that they are working because, we must remember, a session then extends right through into the night, as they are catching up with paperwork, ordering tests and following things through. Individuals are just saying “If I don’t step back, it will have a serious impact on my own wellbeing.” We have got to protect the wellbeing of GPs. They are a precious resource in delivering our healthcare services.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she share my concern about the shortage of GPs? The Government have committed to having an extra 6,000 GPs by 2024 or 2025, I think. The pressures GPs are under is a direct consequence of the failure to address the issue.
My hon. Friend raises the next point in my speech. We are in this mess because for over a decade we have had failed workforce planning across the system. We have seen that most acutely in primary care. The pandemic continues to be mismanaged, which I want to stress. The Government may be looking at the numbers when it comes to intensive care and hospital admissions, but as people are less sick they instead go to see their primary care physician. That puts more pressure on them. We need to see more measurements and data on the pressure that has been put on primary care during the pandemic. In addition, we have long covid as well. In York there are around 3,000 cases. It is not coded, so can the Minister get that sorted urgently? We need to look at the support that people with long covid require.
In the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes clinical commissioning group area, there is only one GP for every 2,500 people, making it one of the worst hit by GP shortages in the country. The number of GPs employed in the area also has fallen by 12% to 390. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need an urgent independent review of access to general practice, not a “name and shame” league table that will only drive more overwhelmed GPs away from their profession?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend speaks for himself. We need a shift from a sickness service to a health service. The Government scrapped the health checks that were vital in picking up ill health. We need to see prevention at the front of the queue, and we need to see investment in public health, which is currently being cut by local authorities. We need to make sure proper preventive measures are put in place.
The fact that the Government are not moving to plan B right now shows that they are escalating the challenges on general practice rather than diminishing them. They are putting the vaccine responsibility on GPs when it can be done elsewhere in the service, as it was by Nimbuscare. We need to look at how not only health professionals but volunteers and the Army, even, are working together to deliver healthcare. We need to think about the broadest team available. Pharmacy also plays a crucial role in making sure that we are protecting the health service.
Looking at prevention, we do not necessarily need to move towards an individual, one-on-one health system for everybody. We can socialise and communitise health, so that people can get health support in active communities. Peer support is vital in managing disease and ensuring that people can support one another through ill health. Occupational health services can make those early interventions in workforces, often where mental health problems show up when there is stress in the workplace. There are real opportunities to expand those services and look at deploying early intervention and education to turn around this system. It will only happen if proper investment is made and proper workforce planning is put in place. The Government have got to get to grips with the figures on staffing and ensure that investment is in place.
Staff are exhausted, tired and downtrodden. The trauma of covid is hitting right now. We need to ensure that staff are properly rewarded through their pension scheme and with a decent pay rise. Get it sorted.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who makes important points in her speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) on securing the debate and making many compelling arguments. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on taking her position on the Front Bench. She is one of a small number of individuals in Parliament who has recent frontline experience and I am sure she will bring that to bear in her role.
GP appointments are an important issue about which there have been concerns for many years. The principal concern at the moment relates to coronavirus and the lockdown. We cannot avoid that or simply touch on the subject, then concentrate on a wealth of other concerns. We have to focus on that issue as the prime driver of the current problems in the sector.
The Chancellor has put forward substantial resources, but more are always needed to make sure that resources are available for the national health service and for general practitioners. More needs to be done, and I am sure that, in the coming months and year or so, more resources will come forward.
I am here to raise the concerns of my constituents who are increasingly worried. At the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, many people chose not to take up available GP or hospital appointments, but many of those conditions that have not been investigated or checked in the last 19 months are now far worse. The pressure and demand on hospitals and GPs are more severe. People are increasingly less frightened of coronavirus but more frightened about when they will get to see their family doctor, who is now difficult to see.
People are told by their GP receptionist to call at 8 o’clock, or earlier in some areas, but they have to make call after call after call for half an hour or 45 minutes. They cannot get through until it is too late and they are told to do the same tomorrow. That is happening day in, day out. Many people are now going to accident and emergency. For a long period at the beginning of the pandemic, A&Es were quiet because people were worried about going and getting coronavirus, but the situation has changed radically. People cannot access their GP surgeries and they are going to A&E, but it is far more difficult to get the service there too.
The system is coming under significant and increasing pressure, which is piling up as we head into winter. It is not just coronavirus. There is an expectation that the pressure from other respiratory viruses will mount up along with, as I mentioned, conditions that have not been checked or investigated for all those months such as cancer and other life-threatening conditions.
We have heard about elective care for issues such as cataracts and hip replacements. In the scheme of things, when we are thinking about life and death, they may seem relatively minor but they have a dramatic impact on people’s standard of living. The situation has negatively affected all those discretionary care items, but they have to be addressed too.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about rationing and what is happening in the wider system. With the Health and Care Bill, we are moving away from a national health service to 42 integrated care systems that will all have to balance their books every year under tight financial controls and will all have different strategies. Does he share my concern that that will embed the postcode lottery and increase the rationing of care? Have his constituents commented on that and do they share those concerns?
The hon. Lady makes some important points about the Bill, but the postcode lottery is already there. Most people view the national health service as a one-size-fits-all service that provides the same service wherever they are in the land, but that is not true and perhaps never has been. Access to medicines is very variable and IVF is a good example of something for which different areas have different agendas, policies and accessibilities. We all know that there is already a postcode lottery.
I do think that NHS England is too large an organisation. I was not intending to talk about this, but I was hopeful about health and social care devolution in Greater Manchester. The Mayor could have taken that up and championed it, but he has not made a single speech on the subject—he has not touched it. Having seen the failure of that devolution, the Government are now looking at other mechanisms to champion the cause of better accountability—
I am sorry, I have very little time—where local leaders may be able to champion the cause of better delivery, with organisations in a sufficiently large area in which they can make a difference, but which are close enough to people that local needs can be respected and identified. Different areas are often so very different.
About 5.5 million people are on hospital waiting lists. That is an extraordinary figure. However, there have been about 7 million fewer GP to hospital referrals during the pandemic. If we extrapolate from those figures, we have roughly 13 million people on the hospital waiting list. We need to get the GP service sorted out as soon as possible. It is appalling. I am disappointed in the British Medical Association for threatening strikes. The health system, the unions and the Government need to get together and deal with those problems as soon as possible.
I was concerned about the renewal of the Coronavirus Act 2020 because I know what that will symbolise to the civil service, the health system, the education system and wider society: that we have not and should not yet return to normal. As long as the Coronavirus Act is in place, I can see that the wider system of state, including GPs’ surgeries, will not return to normal. That has to be changed and normal service must resume as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Robertson. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) for securing the debate; if ever there was a timely debate, this is it. It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), who often speaks sense. [Laughter.] And did so today, I should say! That was not a back-handed compliment.
About a month ago, I got an email from one of my constituents who is a nurse working in general practice. She was very angry and frustrated with what she sees day to day, dealing with the general public and some of the challenges there. One line from that email really stuck with me:
“We used to clap for our carers, but now it feels like we get a slap for our carers.”
That really illustrates some of the challenges that those working on the frontlines in primary care are facing. It is a very difficult environment, and no one working in public service should have to be in that sort of environment day in, day out.
Many hon. Members have talked about the frustrations faced by constituents trying to access services; my constituents are in exactly the same boat. My inbox is not exactly quiet on that issue. I have experienced it personally, too: calling the surgery at 8 o’clock in the morning and not getting an appointment; being told through various messaging campaigns to send photos in and get diagnoses that way, but with no clear route of access for how to do that. That drives frustration. People are being told that they can go to the pharmacy and, for what it is worth, I think that is an excellent thing to be doing. We should be triaging people. However, we need better communication about why people should be going to the pharmacy, what symptoms they should be displaying and what questions they should have to go there instead of calling 111 or going to their GP.
The work that GPs and those in general practice are doing is just phenomenal. We should not forget that they are delivering not only a programme to work through a backlog of people trying to access services, but the vaccination programme. In my constituency in Barrow and Furness, they are doing a phenomenal job. Their day job is packed and stressful; delivering the vaccination programme before or after hours to get through those essential numbers as well is really difficult.
I held a roundtable with some GPs with my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I met four GPs from my constituency there, and spoke to another two beforehand. They all talked about having the same issues. After the meeting, one of my GPs sent me an email, and I want to put on record a quote about some of the challenges they are facing:
“During the pandemic we continued to provide face to face appointments despite any personal risk or even PPE in the early days...I have a memory of wearing a bin bag and a visor from B&Q for an early visit! We triaged all contacts as advised…we saw patients in a portacabin in the car park to protect staff… We are aware that not enough patients are being examined, and although we still do phone appointments first, my conversion rate to a face to face…within few days is about 40%...Our workload has increased by about 30% in the last few months. All the patients that ‘stayed at home to protect the NHS’ are now out in force and demanding to be seen, and some are really quite unwell, having suffered from self-imposed medical neglect for many months. Mental health crises dominate every day. Cancers and heart disease are presenting late. And there is a huge bottle neck in the system, as we cannot get anyone seen in secondary care as the waiting lists are so huge…This is a perfect storm”.
Another GP got in touch with me. He is now edging towards retirement. He is contracted to work three days a week, so he is only paid for three days, but he is turning up for six while also delivering the vaccine programme. His concern is not just getting through the waiting list but also the challenge of finding new GPs to backfill afterwards. If we do not get a grip of this crisis, that will be the next problem that we face.
The GP who wrote to me continued:
“If face to face is mandatory, there will be a four to five week wait for an appointment. Is that really the policy outcome anyone wants?”
Those are the challenges that we must lean into, and I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the Government plan to do about them. I know that they have announced money for general practice and the NHS, but we cannot magic up people and resources.
To my mind, we must look at improving access through technology, looking at challenges around phone calls and patient access systems, and easing information flows between GP practices and secondary care. Yesterday in the Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans) said that 10% of GP time is spent chasing up appointments and medical records. We should be able to use technology to get that out of the way.
However, the crucial point is about communications and signposting. Pharmacies and 111 are fantastic resources, but we must make it clear to people why, under what circumstances and how they need to use those routes. We are not there yet. That responsibility falls on both Government and general practice. Something in the comms space is really important.
If we do not tackle this now, I fear that we are building up a problem for the future and that the recruitment issue is going to come back and bite us. I am interested in the Minister’s views on how we tackle that perfect storm. What we need now is a considered and coherent route out of it; otherwise, we will face a similar debate in six or 12 months’ time.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) on securing this debate and on her graphic and very personal assessment of the current position.
Over the past two to three months, I have received a great deal of correspondence on this issue, with constituents very upset that they have not been able to secure face-to-face appointments with their GPs. Late last month, I had a virtual meeting with GPs practising across the Waveney area, who themselves are very upset at the abuse that they have been receiving—something that they and their staff should not have to put up with.
There is clearly a major problem, and, at a time when the pressures on the NHS are growing at an exponential rate, there is a need to work together to find a solution. In the Norfolk and Waveney clinical commissioning group area, notwithstanding the enormous demand for GP services, the position with regard to appointments is positive, although it is recognised that more needs to be done. In August 2019, there were 478,160 GP appointments, and this August that figure increased to 482,993. The proportion of patients being seen face to face is increasing. This August it was 69%, compared to 67% in July and 66% in June. More patients are being seen face to face in Norfolk and Waveney than in other parts of the country: the August figure of 69% compares with a national average of 58%.
That said, it is recognised that a lot of people are very distressed, and in many cases very worried, that they have not been able to see their GP. The pandemic has meant that there is now an enormous increase in demand for GP services, with people on growing waiting lists needing support, and with those who were unable to see their GP during the pandemic wanting an appointment in order to highlight something that is causing them a lot of worry and distress.
The increase in demand for GP services has been happening for some time, but there are severe capacity constraints on the number of patients who can be seen face to face. The current infection, prevention and control measures that are needed to keep patients and staff safe mean that in-person appointments take much longer. Social distancing means that, at practices with smaller waiting rooms, people have to wait in their cars and staff have to go and get them when it is time for their appointment. Additional cleaning arrangements are also required between patients. There is a need to improve and standardise the way that remote appointments are operated and to adopt a whole-team approach, as there are many cases where a patient does not always need to see their GP and can often be cared for better by a physio or pharmacist.
The hon. Member is making some very interesting points. Does he agree that it is important that the Government review the outcomes of patients who have been consulted remotely? I have heard harrowing stories from my constituents. One woman thought she had a very minor ailment—she did not get seen by a GP, and she ended up with life-changing surgery. She will never be the same again. It is important that there is a national review of what has happened to such patients, rather than assuming that everything is all right because a patient does not come back.
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention, and I agree wholeheartedly with her. The more evidence we have, the more we can get remote forms of working to operate much better.
I previously mentioned the abuse that GPs and their staff receive. I should emphasise that it comes from only a small number of patients, but it is nevertheless making general practice a less attractive, and often quite unpleasant, place to work. That risks making GPs and practice staff harder to recruit and causing existing staff to retire early, to choose to work elsewhere in the NHS or even to leave the health service altogether.
The Government’s plan for improving access for patients and supporting general practice is largely to be welcomed, but there needs to be an emphasis on collaboration and working right across the NHS, which is something that the integrated care systems will hopefully achieve. It is also vital for the Government to see through our manifesto pledge to increase the number of GPs and other primary care professionals. There will be an increased emphasis on information technology, and the necessary investment in that infrastructure must take place right across the country in a way that is easy to operate and, most importantly, straightforward for all patients to access.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) on securing the debate. I listened to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous)—I am sure he was looking over my shoulder when I wrote mine, because some of the themes are quite similar.
I find myself in the curious situation of raising the issue of NHS services in east Berkshire. Why is that curious? Because we are pretty well served, actually. The NHS is pretty good locally. We have three fantastic hospitals on the doorstep. The Frimley ICS is one of the best-performing care systems in the country and recently had a reprieve from the new Health Secretary, who had looked at breaking it up. We are in a pretty good place, and I do not tend to get letters from constituents about the healthcare that they receive, which is very good. In this case, however, I have been receiving letters, and I am quite concerned about it.
What is the perception, and what are people saying to me? Under the current policy, GP practices must now ensure that they offer face-to-face appointments. Only 57% of appointments across the UK are currently face to face, versus 79% before the pandemic, so there is an issue. There is also a perception that it is difficult to get through to practices on the phone, and that there is low availability of appointments and a lack of face-to-face care. Constituents are never wrong, my constituents are not wrong, and if they are writing to me repeatedly about these issues, clearly it is incumbent upon me as their MP to raise them.
What is the good news? Nationally, the narrative is actually very positive. If we look at the current statistics from the Care Quality Commission, the scores on GP access are the highest they have ever been, with a 67% satisfaction rate now, compared with 63% last year. Same-day appointments have gone up. People are satisfied with what they are getting from their GP, with an 88.7% satisfaction rating of “good” or “very good”. As of August 2021, 23.9 million GP appointments were offered and recorded, compared with 23.4 million two years ago, so things are getting better. Things are going up. That is in addition to the 1.5 million covid-19 vaccination appointments delivered in August 2021 by GP surgeries. The service, statistically, is improving. It is good news.
However, the data appears to contrast with what I am hearing locally. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) said earlier about how there could be a postcode lottery, or it could be related to the service provider at individual constituency surgeries. Demand is clearly outstripping supply, so Houston, we’ve got a problem.
As an example, one constituent spent 45 minutes on the phone to a particular surgery, tried 159 times to get through and was then offered a telephone consultation for a lump on her neck, which is not great. Constituents have dialled 111 and been advised to contact their GP, then after being unable to get through, they phone 111. We have had multiple complaints from certain constituents in a certain part of my constituency—it would not be fair for me to say where—informing me that the practice has 20,000 patients and only two doctors. The figures do not work. Telephone triage is being used instead of an immediate face-to-face. For flu vaccinations, one particular group practice is advising constituents to travel to the central hub in Bracknell, which causes issues for those less able to get there. We have a capacity problem.
However, it is unacceptable that staff are working under challenging circumstances and facing levels of abuse not previously seen. GPs and staff are working harder than ever before. Retention and staff satisfaction are an issue. Therefore, MPs like me must do more to help to redress that balance, and to balance the narrative. By the same token, GP surgeries also need to take the inquiries that we raise with them more seriously. The GP is not the enemy, and nor is the MP.
My general advice to GP surgeries is this: I think that there are things we can do. We need more staff. Let us do more to recruit staff, particularly receptionist and telephone staff. We need to reassure patients a bit more; they want some TLC after the pandemic, and it is right that they get it. We need to sort out the phone lines. We need to improve electronic referral systems. In Bracknell, we have the new primary care network phone system, whereby calls that cannot be answered by a particular surgery will be rerouted to another, which is quite exciting. We also need communication between surgeries and their patients: tell the constituents what is going on and explain to them why their calls are going unanswered. MPs need to visit surgeries, as I am next week. Basically, let us improve customer service.
I have three points to conclude with. First, care providers in East Berkshire and across the country are working miracles, but are accountable to their customers. I would urge GP surgeries to think about what their customers are saying to them, and to do what they can to reassure them. My second point is addressed to the Minister. The new IPC guidance is forthcoming. When will it be published, and when will GP surgeries get more guidance on what it means? Lastly, I urge everyone listening to this to watch the language being used. We are all in the same space and working hard; doctors and staff are working really hard. Let us please tone it down. All of us are part of the problem, but we are also all part of the solution.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) for securing this debate. She gave a good summary of the issue and I am grateful for her personal testimony. I think all our communities have experienced different levels of satisfaction or otherwise with GP services.
Let me start by paying tribute to the work done by GPs and primary care staff, who, along with their colleagues throughout the NHS, have performed admirably and heroically throughout the pandemic. It would be completely wrong for anyone to claim otherwise. Incidents of harassment of GPs and medical staff—such as the Watford incident, where staff were locked into a consulting room until they agreed to carry out a face-to-face consultation, and an attack in Manchester that left a GP with a fractured skull and other staff with deep lacerations—are unacceptable and should be condemned. I trust that the Minister and every MP will join me in that condemnation.
I cannot help but fear, however, that the UK Government’s harmful rhetoric, including their threat to shame GPs for not returning to face-to-face appointments, may have played a part in such shameful behaviour. The Government must support GPs and not threaten and shame them. While the pandemic remains, it is safer for medical staff and patients to continue hybrid screening and appointments—I stress hybrid. Forcing face-to-face appointments too soon is unsafe and may harm patient care.
For many patients, the choice of using e-health and telehealth solutions to contact their GPs initially has been convenient, but clearly it is not appropriate for all. Some individuals and certain conditions would benefit from a face-to-face appointment and it is important that we get that balance right. However, forcing an immediate return to face-to-face appointments will not necessarily benefit the patients and it may harm efficiency of care.
GPs in England have overwhelmingly rejected the DHSC England plan for forced face-to-face appointments, with more than 90% saying they would increase workload and therefore decrease the amount of time caring for patients. The Royal College of GPs in Scotland said last month:
“We believe that there is a key role in modern general practice for remote consultations and would oppose any moves to deny patients this option of accessing care by reinstating pre-pandemic ways of working”.
It went on to say:
“Instead of arbitrary targets which we feel would not benefit either patients or the wider health service, we need to see concerted and urgent action in a range of areas that would improve general practice and ultimately the standards of care that patients that receive … Key to this is the need for credible workforce planning to ensure that we have an appropriately staffed service”.
That is an absolutely fundamental point. It may be worth mentioning that GP training recruitment in Scotland this year has been the most successful year of any of the last five, with 99% of GP training posts filled so far and with one recruitment round remaining. Already Scotland has a record number of GPs, with more per 100,000 of the population than the rest of the UK. We are on track to increase that number by a further 800 posts by the end of 2027. For comparative purposes, that is currently 94 for every 100,000 people, compared with 76 in England, 75 in Wales and 72 in Northern Ireland.
The BMA said on 15 September:
“Any arbitrary timetables or targets for face-to-face patient consultations would be both unrealistic, demoralising and potentially counterproductive, leaving those desperately in need of appointments waiting even longer”.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government will not be pressuring GPs into unsafe early reopening, just because some politicians and some sections of the press want to insist on it.
In conclusion, the UK Government should match the Scottish Government’s stance and insist on a safety and efficiency-first position, not bow to demands of the right-wing press, which will sacrifice patient and staff safety without providing any benefits to our patients. The key to this issue is getting the balance right in terms of the hybrid approach, which of course requires adequate recruitment levels, which are absolutely fundamental.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions this afternoon and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) for securing this debate on an extremely important issue as we recover from the pandemic. This issue is close to all our hearts and to the hearts of the people whom we service.
GPs play an essential role in our communities. They are often the first port of call for people accessing a wide variety of health services, and their hard work and dedication to serving their communities ensure that we can always obtain advice, medicine and referral to other services.
When we discuss GPs, it is important to remember that they are more than just nameless public servants doing a job. They do not just serve communities; they are an integral part of them. I myself have had the same GP for my whole life, if people can believe that. I am slightly giving my age away to say that she has been my GP for over 40 years.
GPs are the foundations of our national health service, and without access to them our whole health system would collapse. Chronic illnesses would not be caught in time, mental illnesses would go unchecked and life-saving medication would simply not be prescribed. From our birth to our death, a GP is there for us all, and everyone in this country should have access to their GP.
However, like much of the NHS, GPs are overstretched and under-resourced. Even prior to the pandemic, GP surgeries had to contend with a double hit of fewer doctors in the workforce and a rising ageing population. Demand simply outweighs supply. We need more GPs, pharmacists, physiotherapists and community health workers. But instead of supporting GPs during this challenging time, the Government prefer to blame them, making their jobs even more difficult at the time of greatest pressure for our NHS.
We have looked for virtual solutions so often during this pandemic, and for the most part their effectiveness cannot be disputed. They have allowed our economy to keep going and our public services to continue functioning, and also allowed a small degree of normality in what has been an extremely challenging and turbulent 20 months. I know from my own experience on the A&E frontline, especially early on in the pandemic, that infection protocols and social distancing made many elements of delivering compassionate care very challenging.
Digital solutions have worked well, but we know that they are not appropriate in every setting and they do not work for everyone; we have heard ample example of that today in this debate. However, we need to be careful not to conflate two separate issues. Digital solutions in practices were not just necessary for infection control. The sheer demand for appointments is through the roof. GPs have been offering telephone consultations and online appointments for some time now, even prior to covid. There were 2.2 million more appointments in August this year compared with August 2019. The percentage of appointments being delivered face to face is also rising. That shows that GPs are striving to see as many patients as they can, but to increase that number even further they need more support from the Government.
The Conservatives have promised more GPs in every one of their manifestos since 2015. However, we have approximately 2,000 fewer GPs now than we had in 2015. It seems like a simple fix for Government—deliver on manifesto commitments and expand the GP workforce. That will allow for even more appointments and it will help to reduce the burden on existing staff, leading to less burnout and less fatigue.
The British Medical Association conducted a survey of GPs in July. Half the respondents said that they are currently suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, emotional distress or other mental health conditions. I repeat—half the respondents said that. That is a huge percentage. Around the same proportion of respondents said they now plan to work fewer hours after the pandemic. When a workforce are supported, their absence rates come down and their productivity goes up; it is pretty basic. Ensuring that staff are supported not only benefits the workforce but the patients, through more effective and timely care. It is a virtuous cycle, which surely even the cynics would support, as it ultimately leads to more patients being seen and better care being provided.
We have heard about the trickle-down effect of not being able to see GPs and the knock-on impact that has on the rest of the NHS. Yet instead of delivering on their manifesto pledges, this Government would rather stoke the flames of division, by attempting to shift the blame to GPs and encouraging local residents to vent their frustrations at them rather than at the Government. The Health and Social Care Secretary has resorted to attempts to name and shame GP practices that were unable to guarantee face-to-face appointments. The Government will then deny additional essential funding to the practices they deem to be performing poorly. That provocation does nothing to improve patient care; it serves only to deflect anger away from the Government and towards the health service. I know from colleagues in GP surgeries across England that it has already resulted in abuse both online and in person. That leaves so many practitioners considering their career choices, and will lead only to further shortages in future.
Fundamentally, the Government need to make good on their manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs. Without that, there will be a detrimental impact on the workforce and, crucially, on patient care. That has a knock-on impact on how much time GPs are able to spend with patients. Patients are understandably frustrated, as the backlog of care due to covid continues to pile up, with a knock-on impact on waiting times throughout the NHS. At a time when case numbers are soaring again and the booster programme is faltering due to Government inaction, people are anxious about their health and the health of their local community.
No; I want to make some progress. The imminent arrival of winter is also a great cause for concern. Winter is always an extremely challenging time for the health service. GPs will be the first point of contact for the majority suffering from winter respiratory illnesses. However, GP surgeries cannot be blamed for being unable to fill vacancies as a result of wider workforce and funding issues. It is simply not acceptable. The Government are purposefully turning communities against one another, risking the health and wellbeing of patients and staff simply because they are unwilling to put forward a sustainable plan to support GPs to manage their workloads. GPs’ needs and patients’ needs are one and the same. It is a failure of Government that has led us here.
The Labour party voted against compulsory vaccination in the care setting, presumably because they sensed that it would have an impact on carers and their ability to carry on in the sector. Does the hon. Lady think that it would also have an impact on the NHS, with perhaps up to 100,000 people leaving, and GP surgeries?
That is beyond the scope of this debate, but I am very happy to have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman afterwards. I do not believe it is appropriate to mandate vaccinations for NHS staff, forcing them to leave their jobs if they do not accept vaccination, as I put forward in the Labour party’s position on the care sector.
Let us be clear: GPs are being scapegoated for a failure of this Government to act and put people’s health first. The war against GPs that is being propagated by the Government does nothing to serve patient needs or to serve GPs, who are exhausted and unable to fulfil the commitments that they trained hard to carry out, because of a failure of this Government. I see that the hon. Gentleman feels rather pleased with himself for his intervention on me. Forcing people to have vaccinations in the communities that have been hardest hit, for whom trust has been completed eroded by this Government, does nothing to serve our collective aim, which is to ensure that the communities that we all serve have the treatment that they need and timely and respectful surgeries and appointments. That is the very thing that will keep our communities alive and well this winter.
Will the Minister, whom I welcome to her place, please outline what steps the Government will take to tackle the workforce shortages in GP surgeries? Will she outline what resources will be provided to ease the intense workload that GPs are already contending with? Will she outline why additional funding is all directed to secondary care, while our primary services are left to crumble?
I thank all the GPs out there serving our communities. I hope that the Government have listened to our points on the support that GPs, patients and communities need.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) for bringing forward the debate. As we have heard from MPs from across the political parties, their postbags show that this is a big issue from the perspective both of constituents, who are trying to access appointments, and of GPs, who are reaching out to their local MPs to highlight the pressures and difficulties that they have faced recently.
I want to start off by thanking general practice teams and GPs in particular. It is disappointing to hear what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), had to say. There is no war on GPs. We are all in this together, including GPs, reception staff and nurses. On 14 October the Secretary of State announced a GP support package precisely to support GPs in supporting their patients. We have been listening long and hard to the difficulties faced in primary care. The range of measures I will talk about are there to help GPs as much as patients. If we do not support GPs, the patients will struggle.
I wish to put on the record my thanks to all in general practice during the pandemic. They have gone above and beyond—and often under the radar—by continuing to see patients during the crisis. They have also helped support and in many cases run vaccination programmes in their local areas, and have been a key factor in supporting community teams to help patients be discharged from hospital more quickly and to prevent readmission. That was key during the crisis. Without their hard work and dedication, much of that would not have happened.
There is, however, an issue. We all know that there are problems with accessing GP appointments, but there is also some good news. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) described the situation perfectly when he called it a perfect storm. So many patients did not come forward during the pandemic, as advised in the main, and many issues, symptoms, conditions and worries are now coming to the fore. The pent-up demand is such that GPs are overwhelmed by the number of people who now need to be seen, often with symptoms and conditions that are far worse than if they had been able to come forward at an earlier stage.
The physical set-up of many GP practices—infection control measures had to be put in place to protect GPs and their staff and patients—means that they have struggled to see patients. My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) asked about those measures. They have been relaxed: social distancing has been reduced from 2 metres to 1 metre. Face masks are still required, but it is now safer for GPs to open their doors and get more patients into their waiting and consulting rooms. Some infection control measures have been relaxed and we should see an improvement.
Appointment numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels. In August the average number of general practice appointments per working day was 1.14 million, which represented a 2.2% increase on August 2019. As GPs will tell us, they are seeing more patients. The proportion of face-to-face appointments is also increasing. Since August, nearly 60% of appointments have been face to face. That shows that things are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels, but the sheer scale of people who now need to be seen means that it often does not feel like that for patients.
I will give my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield some specific figures for Buckinghamshire. In August, practices arranged a total of more than 200,000 appointments with patients, which is an increase of more than 3,000 from August 2019. In addition, practices in Buckinghamshire helped deliver more than 786,000 vaccines. I take her point that there are specific issues with certain practices that are struggling. My advice to her—and I am happy to meet her and discuss this more fully—is to try to broker a meeting between the GPs and the clinical commissioning group, because often additional support can be given locally to those practices that are really struggling. Sometimes GPs are so overwhelmed that they do not have the space to ask for help and support, even though that is what they need.
Many colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Chris Green), for Beaconsfield and for Barrow and Furness, have raised the issue of telephone access. Much of the problem that patients face is that they cannot get through in the first place, whether that is to make a face-to-face appointment, have a telephone consultation or make a virtual appointment. That is an issue. GPs have historically devised their own telephone systems. They may have gone in with primary care networks or the CCG, and many have their own set-up. Given the sheer scale of the numbers, there is a real issue in having two or three receptionists tackle 300 or 400 calls on a Monday morning, most of which will be complex calls rather than quick, five-minute calls to book an appointment.
That is why part of the GP support package that the Secretary of State announced on 14 October will provide telephone support through a cloud-based system, which will do a number of things. First, it will increase capacity so that patients can get through much quicker. Secondly, it will provide an automated queuing system. I know from my own constituency that patients can be 29th in the queue and have to wait for a long time, so providing that extra capacity will take the pressure off GPs. It will also provide an insight into how much admin support GPs actually need. That valuable data will allow us to provide them with support for the long term.
There are a number of other measures in the GP support package and we are working hard on this matter. There is a £250 million winter access package, aimed at helping GPs open up their surgeries for more face-to-face appointments because this is not an either/or situation. Many Members, including the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), pointed out that many patients like telephone consultations and the virtual appointments, and we are not going back to pre-pandemic face-to-face-only appointments. We need to embrace the changes that technology has brought. It is far more beneficial for busy people who are working or juggling childcare to be able to speak to a GP rather than have to trundle down to the surgery, but there is a place for face-to-face appointments as well.
The access package of £250 million can be used in a number of ways by GP practices. It can be used to take on locum staff if they are available, to take on other healthcare professionals to see patients, to extend opening times, or even to change the layout of a surgery so that it can accommodate more patients. It is for local commissioners and GPs to decide how they would like to use that fund.
There are also significant moves to reduce bureaucracy for GPs. They are often the only people who can sign fit notes or Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency requests. As has been said, there are other healthcare professionals who are equally qualified to do that. Some of it may need legislative changes, which we are working at pace to introduce, but we want to take that bureaucratic burden off GPs so that they are free to see patients when they need to.
There are also a number of other measures in terms of increasing the general practice workforce. As the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness said, communications is a crucial point because it is not always the GP that patients will see in face-to-face appointments. They might see a nurse, a pharmacist or a physio. We need to get that message out at a general practice level, but also at a national level.
My hon. Friend is certainly persistent in his questioning on that issue. It is a decision for the Secretary of State, who is looking at such factors. The vast majority of NHS staff have been vaccinated, for their own protection as much as anything else. I want to highlight that we are increasing the number of primary healthcare professionals across the board, aiming to replicate the model used in hospitals, where a consultant leads a team of multi-disciplinary professionals who will help see a patient and are, sometimes, more expert in dealing with certain clinical situation than GPs themselves.
I have had GPs talk to me, somewhat frustratedly, about not having sufficient GPs in their surgery and having physician associates who do not have the same level of training. There is a concern that this is a backing-away from the Government’s commitment of 6,000 extra GPs. Could the Minister confirm whether the Government are still committed to 6,000 extra fully qualified, trained GPs?
We are committed to increasing GP numbers, as in our manifesto commitment. However, that does not stop us increasing the numbers of other healthcare professionals. We need to get the message out to patients that seeing a nurse, physio or paramedic at the GP surgery is not second best. These are highly qualified, experienced and educated professionals who often are better placed—though I do not want to upset the shadow Minister—to see a patient than a doctor. They can make a considerable difference, but very often patients feel they are being fobbed off or seeing the second best. We need to do a lot of work to reassure patients on that.
We have already recruited 10,000 of the additional 26,000 staff we stated in our manifesto would be working in general practice by the end of 2023-24. We are strengthening our plans to increase the number of doctors in general practice. To reassure Members, so far we have filled a record number of GP speciality training places this year, with the latest data showing that there are already 1,200 more full-time equivalent doctors in general practice than two years ago. It is a challenge; I am not going to say it is not, but we are making progress.
I feel particularly passionate about the use of community pharmacists. In many other countries, the pharmacist is the first port of call for minor ailments. They are highly qualified professionals with over five years of clinical training who are able to assist patients. Over 800 practices have already signed up to participate in the community pharmacist consultation service, which enables patients to see a pharmacist, on the same day in many cases, to deal with minor conditions. That will not only help patients, but it will free GPs up to see the patients that really need to see them for clinical conditions.
Will the Minister also ensure that the funding goes into community pharmacies in the right way if they are to be utilised? Likewise, with the voluntary sector involved in providing support for people through different forms of wider health support, will she ensure that it too gets proper funding?
I thank the hon. Lady. The spending review tomorrow may have further updates on that, so I will not comment on the funding for now. NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care have asked the Royal College of General Practitioners to provide GPs with more guidance on how to blend face-to-face with virtual appointments. We do need a mix of both going forward, and the comms, as has been said so much this afternoon, will make a difference, so that patients know where to go, what is available and who they can see for their particular condition.
The issue of abuse has featured heavily this afternoon. The hon. Members for Batley and Spen and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and for Waveney (Peter Aldous) and others have mentioned the impact of abuse. When patients have been waiting a long time to see a GP, cannot get through on the phone and are feeling unwell in very distressing situations, they often take it out on practice staff. It is unacceptable, and we all have a role in this place to say that we have zero tolerance for that.
We know as MPs what it is like to face a torrent of abuse. If it is not acceptable for us, it is certainly not acceptable for them. My message to general practice staff is that we are four-square behind them on this and will support them. As part of the winter support package, there is £5 million to facilitate extra security, be that CCTV, extra screens or door entry systems—whatever practices feel will make their staff more secure, that funding is available to them. That is not the only solution, and they should not face abuse in the first place, but we are taking it extremely seriously.
In the few minutes that I have left, I want to say that there are two main issues here. There is the short-term covid issue, which has seen a tsunami of patients whom we need to support as we come out of the covid period. There is the £250 million winter package, and there is support around opening up community pharmacies and enabling other healthcare professionals to see patients, which will take some of the bureaucracy away from GPs while we support them to get through the period. However, there are some longer-term solutions as well. General practice and primary care were creaking before covid, and we need to ensure that they are supported in the long term going forward.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield for securing this afternoon’s debate. She has raised some really important points. On Thursday, I am holding a cross-party call for MPs to raise some of their constituency GP issues. I urge them to feed back to me as the Minister where it is working well, because there are some brilliant examples out there. Where it is not working so well, it is not the fault of GPs. There are some fundamental solutions that we can help them with, but it is important that we hear about the problems so that we can support them. If Members have specific issues from their constituencies, they should join the call. We are hoping to hold such calls on a regular basis, if that is needed by colleagues, and I am keen to work with everyone across the House to support general practice, because that is the only way we will support patients in the end.
I thank hon. Members from across the House for their contributions. I thank the Minister for a very nuanced and positive response, and for taking so much time to explain the measures that the Government are taking. I think many of the GPs in my constituency would welcome those things. GPs need additional support and have perhaps not been able to ask for it because they are so overwhelmed with the backlog, so it is a wonderful and really positive step. I look forward to bringing more constituency issues directly to the Minister, and I thank her for opening up that pathway. Many of my constituents have never contacted their Member of Parliament before, and they just felt desperate. I know that many GPs are doing all that they can, but having additional support from the Government is very welcome indeed.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered GP appointment availability.
Investment Industry Exposure to Modern Slavery
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission, and to also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered investment industry exposure to modern slavery.
Modern slavery is one of the most prevalent and egregious violations of human rights in the world today.
It is great to see you in the chair, Mr Robertson, for what is my first ever Westminster Hall debate. Hopefully my performance will not mean that it is my last. I welcome the Minister to her new, important role. I know she will carry out her brief superbly in one of the most important jobs in Government—safeguarding our most vulnerable people.
I think we can all agree that the shameful existence of modern slavery has no place in a civilised world. It is an issue that should concern every person who believes in the integrity of common humanity, and should be a concern for every business, because it distorts markets and undermines ethical business practices. As an international community, we have rightly taken collective responsibility for defending human rights around the world. Organisations, such as the United Nations working group on contemporary slavery, have drawn increased attention to the issue and made significant strides in defining and identifying this covert and highly complex crime.
That being said, there is a great deal more work to do. Human exploitation continues to pervade every major nation on earth. Almost half the countries in the world have yet to criminalise slavery. In the UK alone, it is estimated that 136,000 people are currently victims of this awful crime. However, we are here today to specifically discuss the role that the investment industry can play in tackling modern slavery because, as it currently stands, financial services are not considered part of the solution in public policy. I want to do my little bit to try to change that.
We must first acknowledge the great work that this Government, and previous Conservative Governments, have done in tackling this issue, thanks to the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), together with, of course, our late friend and colleague James Brokenshire, the Security Minister at the time, who passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015. The vision for that legislation was truly world-leading, and the UK became the first country in the world to require businesses to identify and address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains. It is an Act that we, in this country, should be incredibly proud of, for it has highlighted that modern slavery exists in the private economy. It has also paved the way for legislation in other countries—in Australia, France and the Netherlands.
However, while we reflect on what the 2015 Act has achieved, we must also acknowledge the need for evolution. All legislation requires continual review to keep pace with developing risks, and the Government have therefore, rightly, announced that they plan to strengthen the Act in response to consultation in 2019.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this forward. I spoke to him outside, so he knows what my thoughts are. Does he not agree that it is important that for girls in particular, we need to understand that investment portfolios should show mindfulness on human slavery? It is not enough to say that if we do not use modern slavery in our businesses, our hands are clean. Would the hon. Member agree that we must be cognisant of how investment portfolios gain interest? This can only be done, as the hon. Gentleman says, through legislation and legislative change.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which is a great honour. That is another first for me, so I feel like I am really making it now. I completely agree that young girls and young people—all people, actually—who have investments, savings or a retirement pot, need to know and have confidence that those who invest that money on their behalf are doing so prudently and are putting in place the checks to ensure that there is no inadvertent risk of modern slavery. The Government should do everything they can, as I will come on to in a minute.
The Government’s commitment to amend section 54(5) is intended to make it more prescriptive for investment funds. I completely agree with that, but even with those changes, that section would remain entirely focused on internal business structures and supply chains, not where their investments are made. The good news is that an increasing number of responsible companies are holding themselves to a higher standard. Many investors are already assessing modern slavery risks as part of their robust environmental, social and governance strategies or choosing to report their alignment with the United Nations’ guiding principles on business and human rights.
Yesterday, I met a group of investors, and this year alone, I have met 24 separate financial services companies in preparation for today’s debate. I found that they already have robust measures in place to tackle modern slavery. On the whole, however, the sector has not integrated modern slavery risks into investment processes to the same extent that it has adopted environmental risks. Some 795 financial organisations published modern slavery statements under the Act last year, but of 79 asset managers who submitted a statement, only 27% disclosed that they had conducted due diligence on modern slavery risks.
That is clearly a problem, but I believe that there are three solutions. First, the Government could broaden section 54 of the Act and consult on including a requirement that investment portfolios are included, as they are in Australia. Secondly, the Government could issue specific statutory guidance on how investors can assess modern slavery risks—again, as they do in Australia—so they are equipped with knowledge on that assessment. Thirdly, as it is a global problem that needs a global solution, we should work with our global allies to establish a taskforce, modelled on the taskforce on climate-related disclosures. Although the issue is different, the approach can be the same.
As it stands, financial services firms are a £9 trillion lever that we are not yet pulling in our fight against modern slavery. The UK is the largest net exporter of financial services in the world and the law change that I have proposed could make a difference in eradicating that horrendous crime. It would also protect and promote our democratic values at home and abroad. British savers and investors should never be used to support profit from human slavery. It matters for global Britain, as our leadership in this space will create prosperity at home and help to promote our values abroad. The situation that we walk past is the situation that we accept. It is an issue hidden in plain sight. We need to pull every lever we can to end it once and for all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) on securing the debate. He and I have been discussing the issue for some time and he has led admirably on assessing the requirements that are needed to address it, bringing his background and experience in the private sector to this place. What a speech that was.
I also thank the Human Trafficking Foundation, with which I believe my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) also has a relationship, whose work has been extraordinary in highlighting and identifying the issue around modern slavery and human trafficking. My predecessor Anthony Steen played a large role in that and continues to perform those duties in a meaningful and effective manner.
I am conscious that there is a limited amount of time, and I do not want to interrupt those Members who will follow me or the Minister’s response, but I want to make a few points about what we understand from the Modern Slavery Act 2015. It was a landmark piece of legislation. All too often in this place we say that a Bill is a landmark piece of legislation—this really was. It was unique in the world, and it has been followed by legislation in Australia, France and the Netherlands, as has already been said. In that Act we committed to bring perpetrators to justice, we ensured that businesses were brought in line with transparency reports, we enhanced protections for victims, we ensured that there were supply chain statements and we appointed the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Those were all integral and important points, but we also have to assess their effectiveness in delivering, and make sure that businesses are following suit and not just going through the rigamarole of ticking boxes to say that they have complied with the requirement to publish statements. The Act has to have teeth. This is where the opportunity comes. The UK shows global leadership and has global power in being able to set up initiatives like this.
I will go briefly off topic and talk about the illegal wildlife trade. In 2013-14 the UK launched a transportation taskforce in which we brought together private, public and charitable organisations to disrupt the illegal wildlife trade network. We then began to bring in financial networks to look at data analysis and see where we could disrupt those chains across the world. This is what we should be doing in this area. There is huge potential for doing it, and there are similar models that we can replicate in this country.
My last point is what was raised in the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s report at the end of this year. It said there were two points we needed to look at. The first one relates to data analysis. It is a huge benefit to be able to bring in financial institutions; to be able to pinpoint and identify beyond the supply chains and businesses’ internal structures; to look at where money is being transferred; to look at where money is being invested and to take account of that; and to make sure that we can be reassured about where our investments are being put. Secondly, slavery is generating somewhere in the region of $150 billion a year. The report goes on to encourage the exploration of opportunities to partner with financial institutions.
We set up the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to make sure that we listen to these recommendations. These recommendations have come out in the report; we would do very well to listen to them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford has said, it is the situation that one walks past and cannot ignore. We cannot, in this day and age, look at the crisis and the egregious crime that is human trafficking. We cannot accept it in the 21st century. We have the opportunity to bring those financial institutions together—with the City of London and the power we have as the fifth biggest economy in the world—and it is time for us to take the action, take the lead and provide that leadership. I hope the Minister will listen to these words, and the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford, and take the appropriate action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. If I can refer to my entry in the register of interests, the Human Trafficking Foundation appears as I am a trustee. I welcome the Minister; this is the first time that I have participated in a debate that she is responding to in her new role. I can assure her, as someone who fulfilled that role for over two years, that it is a fantastic place to be; the change you can make to people’s lives as a Minister in the Home Office with responsibility for this area is absolutely breath taking. It is a difficult job, it is a tough job, but it is also one of the most rewarding jobs in Government. I welcome her to the role and know she will do a fantastic job. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) on securing this debate and delivering what I know will not be the last contribution he makes to a Westminster Hall debate. It was an excellent contribution, and it set out so succinctly and well the point that he is campaigning hard on. I am also grateful for his willingness to accept contributions from other Members in this very short, half-hour debate.
My hon. Friend raised, very well, the risks and the opportunities there are for investment businesses in ensuring they are making the ethical investments their customers and consumers want. People want to know that their money is being invested in a way that is not funding crime—be that drug crime, gang-related crime or, in particular, the economic crime against people that is human trafficking and modern slavery. Let us be clear: this is an economic crime. It is so often confused with crimes of immigration, but it is not an immigration crime. It is an economic crime: one human being is prepared to make financial gain from another human being. We must all work to stamp that out.
The numbers are shocking. The latest estimate is that around 40 million people globally are victims of modern slavery, of which 25 million are victims of forced labour and 15 million are involved in forced marriage or other forms of exploitation. Some 25 million people globally are victims of forced labour. We must remember that number and work hard to do what we can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford is right. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) made the point as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has big shoes to fill in taking over from the wonderful Anthony Steen, who is an absolute hero; without him, we simply would not be where we are today with the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
When I took the Modern Slavery Bill through Parliament, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was very involved on Report, and tabled amendments constantly, including on supply chains. Section 54 was not in the Bill when we started. The Bill had gone through prelegislative scrutiny by a Committee chaired by Frank Field, now of the other place. I am going to call him by name. I know that we would normally refer to him as the noble Lord Field, but everyone will have seen the news that he made public last week, and our thoughts go to him. He is another of the founding fathers of the Act. Without Frank, and without the noble Baroness Butler-Sloss, Anthony Steen, the noble Lord Randall and many others, we simply would not have achieved it. That prelegislative scrutiny Committee wanted to see transparency measures for supply chains, but Government do not always listen to everything that prelegislative scrutiny Committees or others suggest. A lot of work was needed to persuade Government of what those of us in the Home Office could see was a very good idea, but about which others in Government had not been so convinced.
Section 54 was undoubtedly revolutionary, but that does not mean that it is not evolutionary. It does need to evolve. Now, six years along, there are undoubtedly things that can be improved, and I welcome what the Home Office has said about changes that must be made. It does need to be strengthened. It must be expanded to more businesses. The points that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford made about what we could do on investments are really interesting, and I urge the Minister to take those points to her colleagues in Government at the earliest opportunity so that they can remove their reasons for opposing them as quickly as possible. This is something that customers want. Consumers want to know that their money is properly invested.
I will make two very quick points before I sit down. The first is that I have tabled a private Member’s Bill that replicates section 54 on climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford said that this was something that people wanted to see. I would like to see that transparency in supply chains on climate change as well, and I hope that hon. Members will support the Bill. Second, I join my hon. Friend in pleading that we ask the United Nations to make human trafficking and modern slavery a focus of the next General Assembly in September 2022. If we could work together to do that and to get global recognition of this issue, we would go a long way to tackling this heinous crime.
It is a huge pleasure to be here serving under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I very much thank my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) for securing this vital debate and for bringing with him a wealth of experience from his distinguished career in the investment industry, which informs us all and helps us all to move further.
I also thank my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley). I really do feel that I have very big footsteps to follow in. I thank her for all her work in bringing the world-leading and groundbreaking Modern Slavery Act 2015 on to the statue book. Without her work, I certainly would not be here today talking about this subject, and it is absolutely right that we are. Thanks to her work, and that of others, last week we were able to mark Anti-Slavery Day and reflect on the trauma that victims suffer, the cruelty of those who exploit them and the bravery of survivors attempting to rebuild their lives. That was also a moment to reaffirm our commitment to confronting the evils of modern slavery, wherever and whenever they occur. They are utterly appalling crimes that have no place in our society. I very much welcome the interest shown by my friends today, including the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), so that we can stamp out these crimes.
It is nice to pause and reflect on what we have already done as a Government. We have taken some very important strides forward in recent years, but of course there is more to do. These crimes continue to evolve and we must continue to evolve. As my friends have said, modern slavery is a global problem. We continue to provide global leadership to tackle it. During our G7 presidency, G7 members agreed to joint action on forced labour in global supply chains, and reaffirmed their commitment to upholding human rights and international labour standards. That is why we continue to invest heavily in tackling modern slavery. We have funded a new five-year modern slavery victim care contract to support victims to rebuild their lives. That new contract is worth £379 million over five years and will deliver a much-needed service that is based on need and better aligned to the requirements of individual victims. As we know, victims present with incredibly complex needs, and it is right that we have the support tailored for them.
The Home Office has invested a further £1.4 million this year to support the police’s response to modern slavery, bringing the total investment in policing to £15 million since 2016. That funding in the round has helped us to pursue perpetrators and drive an increase in modern slavery investigations and operations. Following our recognition that the nature of modern slavery has evolved over the years, the Home Secretary announced a review of the 2014 modern slavery strategy, which builds on the considerable progress, by adapting our approach and maintaining our position as an international leader in this area.
We will publish a new strategy next spring, which will set the strategic direction for years to come. Through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the UK became the first country in the world to require businesses to report on the action they were taking to address modern slavery risk in their operations and supply chains. That legislation acts as a call to action for businesses, investors and the international human rights community—no doubt the businesses that my hon. Friends were involved in before they brought their expertise to this place.
Following the recommendations of the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act and a consultation, the Government committed to introduce an ambitious package of measures to strengthen our world-leading legislation on transparency in supply chains. We will extend the reporting requirements to public bodies, to leverage public procurement and address risks in public supply chains.
We will mandate specific reporting topics that statements must cover, set a single deadline for reporting, require organisations to publish their statements to a new Government registry for modern slavery statements, and introduce financial penalties for organisations that fail to meet their reporting obligations. Those changes require legislation, but I want to reassure colleagues that this Government remain committed to legislating on modern slavery and will implement the measures as soon as parliamentary time allows.
In addition to the changes we have already committed to make, we will consider our future approach to transparency in supply chains, as part of our modern slavery strategy review, including how we can best utilise the unique power—and pockets—of the financial sector, to tackle modern slavery.
Let me now turn to some of the specific points referenced in the debate. Individual organisations must focus on preventing harm in their practices. We do not believe that physical remoteness or being several steps away from the supply chain is an excuse. Investors do need to hold their organisations to account, as my hon. Friends so eloquently set out. People who are saving for their pensions or retirement should not be exposed to criminal activity.
I am grateful for all the work done by my hon. Friends the Member for Grantham and Stamford and for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall). Through their convening power, they have brought together financial institutions and organisations. I am also grateful for the work of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, highlighting the role that the financial services sector has to play. It is clear that there is more to do, but investors can help to drive this change by fully harnessing their leverage. I highlighted that message this week at a meeting jointly hosted by the Home Office and CCLA, a fund manager, to discuss how Government, businesses and investors can work in partnership to tackle modern slavery. There are some really good examples of investor-led initiatives, with investors taking collective action, such as the CCLA-led Find It, Fix It, Prevent It and Rathbone’s Votes Against Slavery project.
However, we know that there is more to do here. While I am encouraged by the positive initiatives already under way, we need to make sure that we continue on the right track and that investors scrutinise their investment portfolios to engage and challenge companies on their response to modern slavery.
As hon. Members have said, when it comes to those environmental, social and governance issues, we know that businesses and investors have responded well to the environmental challenges they face. As we look to accelerate progress on tackling modern slavery, the Home Office is working with investors to understand what more we can do to encourage and incentivise businesses and investors to place the same emphasis on social issues. This issue is now, rightly, rising up the agenda.
I thank the Minister for her excellent response. Minister, last week in the press over a hundred MPs had signed a petition and a letter of concern about investment in Chinese companies, some of which are using Uyghur Muslims as slave labour. Is the hon. Lady able to give us any guidance on how we can take that further to try to make that stop?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. It is an egregious example of abuse of human rights; just because it is happening overseas does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to it. We in the Home Office are looking closely at all of these issues as part of our review of the modern slavery strategy. I would be very happy to continue in discussion with the hon. Gentleman to provide further reassurances on what can be done. However, I want to make very clear from this Dispatch Box that companies have a responsibility to their consumers and shareholders to do the right thing and not enable slavery in the pursuit of profit.
As we look to accelerate progress on tackling modern slavery, it does seem very challenging. However, we do know that the business and investor community has taken huge strides, and it has succeeded in making better, more informed green choices. We should hold and demand those same expectations for modern slavery. We should not walk by. We should not ignore the crimes that are hiding in plain sight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford called for the legislation to be extended to financial services so that they address modern slavery in their investment portfolios. I have taken close note of that. Legislation is important, but it is not the only factor driving responsible behaviour. Many organisations already report voluntarily under the Modern Slavery Act and publish modern slavery statements. I would strongly encourage any responsible organisation to do the same, and I would encourage shareholders and consumers to ask those questions about where they are putting their money and their investment.
I have noted very carefully the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes made. I reassure them that we will consider extending the scope of section 54 as part of our strategy review.
In closing, let me once again express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford for securing this debate on such an important subject. It is a real tribute to him to have brought forward a debate on a topic that is sometimes hidden, but should not be. I thank him for shining a light on all the work that the Government, many NGOs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands, the Anti-Slavery Commissioner and many others are doing. Modern slavery is utterly abhorrent, and I can assure hon. Members that this Government remain steadfast in our determination to root out such crimes, protect the vulnerable and support victims.
Question put and agreed to.
Motorcycling: Government Support
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government support for motorcycling.
In the UK, 1.4 million people use motorcycles, scooters and mopeds. Those 1.4 million people travel approximately 4.4 billion miles a year. There has been a 131% increase in the number of motorcyclists registered in the last 20 years, although they still comprise only a small percentage of overall traffic. However, motorcycles clearly play an active part in UK transport and I want to put on record my thanks to Barbara Alam and Craig Carey-Clinch, who support the all-party parliamentary group on motorcycling, and to the National Motorcyclists Council, or NMC, for their support in my initiating the debate. The NMC has representatives drawn from a wide range of stakeholder groups, including the Auto-Cycle Union, the British Motorcyclists Federation, IAM RoadSmart and the Motorcycle Action Group—I am a member of both—the National Motorcycle Dealers Association, and the Trail Riders Fellowship. What an august body it is. I thank all those organisations for their part in helping motorcyclists. They have identified and addressed the many issues and challenges that motorcyclists face in this country, and their work is very much appreciated.
The Department for Transport has estimated that over half of motorcycle use is for commuting, education or other practical purposes. The Government can and should do more to promote this efficient, low-polluting and very practical mode of transport. The DFT’s national travel survey has estimated that from 2002 to 2016 more than half of motorcycle trips were for commuting or business, a significantly higher proportion than the 19% of such trips for other modes combined. Yes, motorcycling is a vulnerable mode of transport, but so is bicycling or using e-scooters, both of which are promoted by the Government as modes of transport. It is vital that safety is improved, but that will not be achieved unless motorcycling is accepted and supported as part of UK transport networks.
Whenever I see motorcycling being debated, I have to be there, because my brother raced motorbikes. Unfortunately, some 19 years ago he had a very severe accident and ended up with brain injuries. The hon. Gentleman has outlined exactly the importance of motorcycling, but does he agree that motorcycle theft is a major issue in the UK? Secure rails to secure motorcycles to are few and far between, but if we can provide them for bicycles we should do so for motorcycles as well, and such locations should be made easier to access. If motorbike thefts are high, the means of securing them must be in place.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. First of all, I am sorry to hear about his brother. Falling off a motorcycle is extremely frightening—I have done that. Unfortunately, I have also had my motorcycle stolen, so I absolutely agree about the need for proper security. Of course, everybody benefits if things are not stolen, because our insurance stays lower. So yes, I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I will discuss the casualty element in just a moment.
The Vision Zero approach to safety, namely that road deaths and injuries are unacceptable and preventable, should be applied proportionately to motorcycling, which would bring it alongside walking and cycle safety in transport safety policy matters. It is my hope that the debate will start a conversation about how we can begin to incorporate motorcycling more widely into the UK’s transportation mainstream and promote its uptake as a safe mode of transport.
Sadly, every 22 minutes, someone is killed or seriously injured on UK roads. The number of road deaths in the UK plateaued from 2012 to 2019 at around 1,850 deaths a year—the equivalent of five a day, on average. According to Brake, the road safety charity, motorcyclists accounted for 20% of road deaths in 2019, while cyclists and pedestrians accounted for 10% and 24% respectively. Cycling, which had similar casualty rates to motorcycling, has experienced active public support through policy in recent years, which has led to a reduction in casualties. If the Government supported motorcycling as a recognised form of alternative transport alongside walking and cycling, those death figures would decrease. In 2017, the Government spent £300 million in dedicated funding for cycling and walking. They have announced £2 billion in additional funding for walking and cycling over the next five years. That is a sixfold increase. If even a fraction of that was spent on motorcycling, the benefits would far outweigh any negatives.
Spending on national and local roads has increased year on year since 2013-14. Locally, that funding is largely spent and implemented by local authorities. One of the biggest issues for both motorcycle riders and bicyclists is poor surface quality, with potholes and low-grip manhole covers being the most threatening. Government strategy must ensure that road environment design never compromises motorcyclists’ safety and entitlement to ride. I have experienced that myself, particularly after there has been flooding. If the pebbles are all washed into the middle of the road, it is virtually impossible to ride safely. If I ride on the bit that has been swept, I am too close to the edge; if I ride too far across, I am too close to the oncoming traffic; if I ride in the middle, over the pebbles, it is very frightening and skiddy. We must therefore do all we can to make sure that the road is safe.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that wire barriers in the middle of roads are extremely dangerous for motorcyclists and that, although there is now a policy that no new wire barriers will be put in place, the existing ones need to be replaced?
They garotte the bicyclists. Motorcycling is not particularly dangerous. When a motorcyclist falls off, they bounce along the road—it is what they hit that kills them. That is why the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is the impact against an oncoming vehicle or anything they meet in the roadway that does the damage. A wire is lethal. The new concrete barriers we are seeing on UK motorways are very welcome, and we need to see that across Government as things progress. It is that lack of thought that is the essence of the debate.
Analysis conducted by the Motorcycle Action Group in 2020 concluded that poor road surface was a contributory factor in four motorcyclist fatalities and 70 serious injuries every year. In 2020-21, the Government spent £5.46 billion on local roads and £6.26 billion on national roads, while the Department for Transport allocated more than £1.5 billion for local highway maintenance. Between 2020 and 2022, Herefordshire Council—my local authority—will receive more than £33 million for road maintenance. That is welcome. However, how is it being spent?
In response to a written question I submitted recently about potholes, the Secretary of State for Transport stated that,
“there is no specific requirement for Councils such as Herefordshire to demonstrate how they spend their share of funding, including the Pothole Action Fund.”
I believe that the Government should begin to require that. It would not only demonstrate to taxpayers that their money is being spent wisely, but give the Government a clear indication of where they should request that local authorities target their investment.
In another written question to the Department for Transport, I asked how the pothole action fund was spent. I was told:
“The Department endorses ‘Well-managed highway infrastructure: A Code of Practice’ by the UK Roads Liaison Group.”
In its 256 pages, how many times was motorcycling mentioned? Once. Therein lies the issue. The Government’s guidebook on how to fund road and infrastructure construction and repair ignores motorcycling. I recognise and appreciate the recent announcement for additional funding to tackle the pothole issue. Herefordshire Council has squandered its road funds and our local road network remains woefully inadequate. The Department for Transport must therefore issue guidance to councils on how they prioritise repairs in locations where motorcyclists’ safety is most likely to be compromised. That can happen only when motorcycling is recognised properly as an alternative transport mode.
Another issue with the current model of alternative transport is how rural settings are largely forgotten. It must be remembered that in isolated and rural areas, bus services are infrequent, to put it mildly. Motorcyclists in the most rural areas travel some 5,200 miles a year, on average, compared with 4,000 in other areas. Walking and cycling are most often not an option for people in very rural areas. They are left with little option but to use private powered transport, such as motorcycles or mopeds. This is the case in my constituency, North Herefordshire, one of the most rural in the country.
The future of transport rural strategy will need fully to encompass this mode of transport as part of the aim to secure improvements in rural transport accessibility and resilience. If the local authority is given express instructions to fund motorcycle-specific repairs to roads, overall accidents and death figures can be significantly reduced. In 2018, there were 39,996 road traffic accidents in rural areas across the UK—109 a day. In my county of Herefordshire, 440 road accidents were reported that year. Of those, only 42 included a pedestrian, 41 a pedal cycle and 40 a motorcycle; 302 of the 440 involved a car. Those figures clearly indicate that motorcycling should be treated in a similar way to walking and cycling and that funding should be made available to promote the uptake and safety of motorcyclists on our infrastructure networks. That will be possible only with a clear Government strategy for motorcycling and I hope that the Department will outline that in its response today. Walking, cycling and public transport have key roles to play in transforming travel and transport. However, they fail to offer the flexibility and practically that a notable proportion of vehicle users need and rightly demand from their transport choices.
Motorcycling offers a desirable, low-congesting and low-polluting alternative that is already well developed and regulated, but has never been properly considered as a transport mode in its own right. Now is the time for motorcycling to experience proper policy support. It is a free, exciting and wonderful mode of transport. It has its drawbacks, many thanks to other road users and the road conditions. I believe that should the Government include and promote motorcycle uptake, roads in the UK would become a safer place. That cannot happen until there is a fundamental change of thinking. Motorcycling is here to stay. Instead of motorcycling being cast aside as a fringe element of road use, the Government should do much more to support and promote its uptake.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on putting this important matter on our agenda. I want to speak on three points about motorcycling: sport, support and safety. I also want to add to the hon. Gentleman’s point on strategy, which is very important.
I declare an interest as an office holder of the all-party parliamentary motorcycling group. It is the most collegiate APPG in the House. We never discuss Brexit or remain, Scottish nationalism or Ulster Unionism; we discuss our favourite subject, motorcycling, and what we can do to promote, enhance and encourage it. I encourage any Member who wants to learn about proper collegiate activity in Parliament to join the motorcycling APPG to get a fresh view of people’s attitude to politics. It is very refreshing. I am also a member of MAG, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and I will comment on it in a moment.
Motorcycle sport contributes very significantly to our culture and identity. Too often, it is ignored when we think of the activities of some of our most spectacular sporting heroes, whether that is Carl Fogarty from GB or Jonathan Rea from Northern Ireland, who has dominated world superbikes more than anyone in the history of that sport. That is incredible and we should take a moment to pay tribute to those people.
My constituency is synonymous with road racing, with the Dunlop brothers and their nephews, William and Michael. They made a considerable contribution to people’s understanding of comradeship, sport, prowess and athleticism right at the pinnacle of motorcycle sport. These people have led and controlled it.
Does my hon. Friend accept that while this country, especially Northern Ireland, has produced some world-renowned motorcyclists, the sport attracts hundreds of thousands of adherents and supporters? It is not only good for local economies but for tourism.
My right hon. Friend has obviously been reading my notes, which is very unfair of him––do not read them any more. Sporting tourism is huge in Northern Ireland. He talked about people visiting sporting races. Almost 40,000 people go to an average round of the British superbikes and in some cases more, depending on the size of the track. In the North West 200, just outside my constituency in East Londonderry, over 100,000 spectators will visit in a week in May. It will contribute £12 million to the economy of Northern Ireland. The Ulster grand prix attracts tens of thousands of people and contributes about £7 million to the economy. Those are not insignificant figures for the economy. The hotels and cafes could not do without them. Those events are a significant driver of tourism.
Our sporting heroes need to be properly recognised. It disheartens me year on year when I see the achievements of people like Jonathan Rea not honoured by the BBC in its sporting pinnacle programme about celebrities in sport and its main sporting achievement award. That insults what these gladiators on two wheels achieve, because they put their lives at risk. They do it for our enjoyment because we enjoy the spectacle, but it is an incredibly dangerous sport, though it is obviously very well managed. We must ensure that the sport is supported and that young people are encouraged through motocross into the other, faster rounds of motorcycle sport.
May I turn briefly to support for motorcycling? The hon. Member for North Herefordshire talked of the need for a national strategy. I agree but the state of our roads is key in this. Bikers are voters. Those millions of people who take to motorcycling or ride scooters or whatever else are ultimately voters. We should ensure that the roads that they use are safe and properly tarmacked and that the barriers are not lethal but designed to cope not only with motor cars but with motorcyclists. It is essential that we have proper support in place for those riders.
We must also look at the issue of tech and tech support. British motorcycling and motorcycles have had a number of boom years. Consider the Triumph company over the past 20 years. It was started up again after years in the doldrums and is now one of the most successful brands in motorcycling. I am fortunate to own a Triumph motorcycle, as I have for tens of years. It is a fantastic bike. The brand itself is now incredibly desirable. It says Britishness around the world. It is a marketing tool that can be used around the world for superb engineering. The company is now developing electric scooters and cycles. That may not be something we necessarily look forward to––the smell of petrol is in our blood. However, we could be world leaders in the area of new tech and driving electric bikes if we make sure there is proper investment, encouragement and support from the Government. Of course, there are many other brands of British bike that Members can also use.
The third matter that I want to speak about briefly is safety, which has been touched on brilliantly by the hon. Member for North Herefordshire. Motorcyclists, I believe, are much more alert to this issue than car drivers. A young person on a motorcycle who is taught to drive it safely will be a much more alert car driver when they eventually get behind the wheel of one: they are much more alert to the traffic around them, because they are used to constantly looking around them and being aware. They are also alert to the fact that if they come off a motorcycle and hit concrete or tarmac, it hurts. Therefore, they do not want to be in a situation where they either put people into tarmac or concrete, or crash their car.
While we cannot make motorcycling compulsory, we should look at encouraging young people to get on a motorcycle, to understand how it is used and to be much more aware of the openness of being on the road, which will have an impact on their insurance premium and encourage them to be much wiser and skilful car drivers. Motorcycling is a gateway into safer driving generally, and we should work on that and encourage it in some way; I think that should be in the strategy.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that motorcycling is one of the cheaper ways for young people to gain mobility at an early age? For some, it releases them to be able to gain wider employment opportunities. For others, it means more recreational opportunities as well. It is the first and the cheapest way for a young person to gain mobility, and for that reason it should be encouraged. Does my hon. Friend agree it is significant that the delays in the testing regime put people off?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. It is absolutely true if people decide to get on to a motorcycle, we should make sure they are encouraged to ride it safely, and if they want to get their test and move up the grades of motorcycle, there should be no impediment placed in their way: they should be encouraged to do so.
My happiest moments as a kid were spent on the back of my brother-in-law’s motorcycle, going to places, enjoying the freedom that that offered and the opportunities that were available to us. Those happy moments are shared across this nation by many people who have got on a motorcycle at a young age and never looked back. I hope that this House can do more to encourage motorcycling—to encourage safety on motorcycles, sporting prowess, and support for biking.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Robertson, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on having secured it. As I listened to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), I was reminded of a magnificent film called “Why We Ride”, which I am sure people will be able to find on the internet. It is about the joy and fulfilment that comes from riding a motorcycle and riding it well—people want to ride their motorcycles well, because it is a question of risk management and responsibility as well as personal freedom. Of course, there are some people who do not ride their motorcycles well, and I lament that, but overall, we motorcyclists know that we have a responsibility and a duty to ride safely and well. It is a real joy to have listened to the hon. Gentleman speak about his passion for motorcycling.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire, I am a member of Motorcycle Action Group. In fact, I have just received their latest excellent edition of The Road magazine, and if it does not contain at least one letter from my father, I will be extremely surprised—it usually does. I am also a member of the British Motorcyclists Federation, but I think I might have let my Trail Riders Fellowship membership lapse since I sold my off-road motorcycle. However, my main bike is downstairs in the car park, and I commute daily, so I am a very keen motorcyclist, as generously highlighted by The Times today. I was shocked to discover that I am now so old that I have been riding for 34 years; it is very hard to credit. I love my bike. Scarcely anything is more important—perhaps family, friends, and so on, although I admit that only reluctantly. Bikes really matter to those of us who ride. I want to frame my remarks around three themes—the three themes of road safety—engineering, enforcement and education.
On engineering, I particularly welcomed the article The Road magazine about saying goodbye to wires, on the beginning of the end for wire rope barriers in Northern Ireland, and the hope that this would be extended to the whole of the UK. I implore the Minister to look at getting rid of wire rope barriers. As a motorcyclist, when I am out there, perhaps on a windy day, riding through the dales, and there is a wire rope barrier to my side, it is not a happy thought. We do have to accept that accidents happen, sometimes as a consequence of other people’s actions, so it is not a happy thing, as a motorcyclist, to see wire rope barriers. I very much hope that they might be removed.
On bus lanes, I really think that they should be open to motorcyclists everywhere. We do not take up much space and, were a motorcycle to need to stop in a bus lane, it could easily be out of the way of any emergency vehicle anywhere. It really is time to open bus lanes anywhere. I also think we should be realistic about filtering. Clearly, motorcyclists have a responsibility to filter safely and considerately, but there is a case for having sufficient lane width to make it possible for motorcyclists to filter at a sensible speed.
On enforcement, I am afraid that I will say something that I do not think motorcyclists will like very much: we really need to ensure that we enforce the law on noisy exhaust pipes, as it stands. I know that many of my fellow motorcyclists like a noisy engine, but it really is not fair on other people, and it does not do any good whatsoever for us motorcyclists when somebody—I will not call them names—goes through with their bike screaming. Barely anything else harms the reputation of motorcycling as much as someone with a noisy exhaust pipe. I would implore motorcyclists to, for goodness’ sake, fit legal pipes.
Of course I will. I will not pretend to the right hon. Member that I have never taken the baffles out of my KTM, with its magnificent V-twin engine, but the point is that I put the baffles back in when I actually went out on the road. I would implore anyone to ensure that they keep the baffles in and keep lawful exhausts on their bikes, however much we might all enjoy that sound.
On that point, I will briefly turn to electric vehicles. On my YouTube channel, there is a test of an Agility Saietta electric motorcycle. It is an amazing bike to ride. In terms of performance and the ability to enjoy motorcycling, we have nothing to fear from electric-powered two wheelers. However, like—I suspect—the right hon. Member for East Antrim, I will really miss, in due course, the sound of petrol being burnt. I must say, that is why I keep an old KTM 950 Supermoto. In the future, when nobody really knows what petrol is, I will certainly seek to ensure that that is the last motorcycle I ever ride, although I do look forward to electric-powered two wheelers.
I also want to pay tribute to the police. Their BikeSafe courses are excellent, and I enjoyed mine enormously. Police officers are extremely pragmatic and sensible in how they train motorcyclists to ride better, and I hope the Minister will feel able to join me in paying tribute to the police, and in encouraging motorcyclists to take part in those courses. It is important, perhaps especially for those riders who do not ride all year round, that they take part in those courses and learn to ride well.
Finally, on education, we need to educate people that motorcycling is a good, responsible, safe, and indeed environmentally friendly way of getting about. Only a small modal shift to motorcycling has been shown to dramatically reduce congestion and therefore air quality, and so on. The more bikes there are on the road, the more that other road users are aware of bikes and adjust their behaviour to ensure that we avoid those SMIDSYs—“Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”.
We can drive up road safety, drive up air quality and drive down congestion through quite small modal shifts to motorcycles. I really implore my hon. Friend the Minister to adopt policies to do just that, because there is joy and fulfilment to be had in motorcycling and, more than that, there is the practice of personal responsibility and risk management—all wonderful, good things that we Conservatives should stand for. Therefore, I commend motorcycling to her.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Can I start with a declaration of sorts? I am a biker. I am proud to ride with YesBikers for Scottish independence and, like almost every other speaker, I am very happy to support many of the campaigns run by the Motorcycle Action Group, which I particularly thank for its help preparing for today.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing this debate, which is important and not just for those who ride bikes. I agree with much that has been said on parking, theft, safety, dedicated spending on motorcycles and the condition of roads. The economic value of racing has also been mentioned—it is important and not spoken about often enough.
I do not want to concentrate too much on safety, but when I bring my motorbike to England and I see the removal of the hard shoulder on motorways in an attempt to create “smart” motorways, I do worry. If a motorcyclist breaks down—these things do happen—they are not given the protection of a car. The removal of the hard shoulder is something that will have to be very carefully monitored over the next few years in relation to injury and death when motorcyclists break down.
We are in the middle of a climate emergency. The stated policy of many Governments to move to net zero and cap the increase in the temperature of the planet is the right, indeed only, thing to do. Part of the solution will be to reduce carbon emissions from transport, which will include motorcycles. The determination to remove the need for new petrol and diesel vehicles from the 2030s onwards is the right course of action. Motorcycles already contribute significantly to reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality. Their contribution to tackling these issues will increase if innovation and engineering are supported to progress. A few electric motorbikes are available right now, but they are limited in number and actual range and are disproportionately expensive, and there is little or no second-hand market that would make them affordable for most people.
Given that motorcycles already contribute significantly to reduced carbon emissions, surely the Government should be supporting a modal shift from cars to motorcycles. The Leuven report alluded to by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) suggested that a 10% modal shift from cars to motorcycles reduces congestion for all road users by 40%, resulting in a 7.5% reduction in CO2, a 5.5% reduction in nitrogen oxide, a reduction in exhaust particulate matter and a 16% reduction in non-exhaust particulate matter—mainly brakes and tires.
The recent Oxford Economics report commissioned by ACEM said that
“the average emission factor for a European motorcycle (up to 250cc) is 64g/km of CO2 emissions”.
That is equivalent to around one third the emissions of a car. Given that smaller motorcycles, including mopeds, account for 62% of the 22 million two-wheel vehicles on the whole of Europe’s roads, one can see the potential of even a modest modal shift from cars to motorcycles. Even larger bikes have a weighted CO2 emission that is markedly lower than both petrol and diesel cars. As part of our carbon reduction strategy, even before the widespread introduction of electric bikes, the UK Government should be encouraging a move from cars to bikes. I ask the Minister, what precisely is being done to support that?
Turning to the support the Government should provide for safety, the Minister will know there is a great deal of commercial research into automated vehicles. It is shocking that it has taken five years to ensure that Euro NCAP testing of those systems will even test the ability to detect and react to motorcycles. More worryingly, one of the problems is that car sensors can fail to detect a motorcycle if it is barely a metre or so off-centre from the sensing vehicle. For the safety of bikers, and for road safety generally, I ask the Government never to introduce autonomous vehicles to roads here until we are certain that motorcycles can and will be detected.
On safety, pedal cyclists are rightly provided with segregated lanes and, as has been said, they are routinely allowed to use bus lanes. Yet there is no routine access for motorbikes to many bus lanes, which has always struck me as illogical. I ask the Government: what possible logic is there in not supporting bikers by allowing them access to bus lanes, particularly when pedal cyclists can routinely use them? If I can go further than what has been said, if we accept, as I believe we and the Government do, that a critical mass of pedal cyclists makes it safer for them because other road users, mainly car drivers, are used to seeing them and adjust their driving accordingly, surely to goodness the same applies for motorcyclists.
I agree that is unfair. If there was a presumption that one could use a bus lane, except on the odd occasion where one could not, that would be a far more logical approach.
Finally, I turn to the Department for Transport consultation on vehicle regulation, which includes anti-tampering laws. It says:
“Specifically, we would look to create”—
among other things—
“a specific offence for removing, reducing the effectiveness of, or rendering inoperative a system, part or component for a vehicle…and advertising such services”.
Many people modify their bike for aesthetic or performance reasons. I can think of at least one common modification that would breach that new offence. Were one to change the petcock and carburettors on an old motorbike to replace a vacuum system with a gravity-feed system, one would be required to cap off the vacuum system—self-evidently. That would, at a stroke,
“bypass, defeat, reduce the effectiveness of or render inoperative a system, part or component”,
which is one of the proposed new offences. I gently ask the Minister what kind of madness is it that would see changing the carburettor on a motorbike become a criminal offence. That needs an awful lot of rethinking. In short, the Government should support the rights of bikers to work on their own machines, and not turn that perfectly normal activity into a crime.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing the debate. We have heard a lot of enthusiasm from the bikers in this room; it is clearly something that they feel strongly about. I confess that I have never had the opportunity to ride a motorbike.
I have been invited to Motorcycle Live in December in Birmingham to have the opportunity to ride some of the new electric bikes, so I may decide to do that. Former Member Hazel Blears, who I think is 4 feet 10 inches—I am not tall, but she is considerably shorter than me—was a keen biker, which shows that it can be done. Perhaps I should take up the challenge.
I will flag up a number of issues. The hon. Member for North Herefordshire talked about road repairs and presented a rather rosy picture of the amount of funding. It is important for motorcyclists that we keep roads in a good condition, but the money has been cut. The Government promised £1.5 billion to repair damage on roads across the country in the financial year 2020-21, but that was cut to £1.125 billion in the following financial year. Pothole funding was due to be cut by an average 23%, and overall total spending on roads maintenance would drop by an average 22%.
We can compare that with the massive Government road-building programme. It is important that we should not just be looking at building new roads, but at making sure the roads we have are kept in good condition. The insurance industry has raised that point with me. The vast majority of the claims it pays out are caused not by driver error but by the condition of the roads.
As it stands, it will take 11 years and £11 billion to clear the backlog of potholes. On National Pothole Day in January this year, the Chancellor tweeted,
“enjoy #NationalPotholeDay before they’re all gone...”
He was boasting about how much money is going into addressing the problem, but we could be marking National Pothole Day for quite some time to come at the current rate. Perhaps we will get some good news about road repair funding tomorrow.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Herefordshire that safety is incredibly important. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke about electric motorbikes, which I will come to a bit later. He also spoke about the smell of petrol and his colleague, the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), mentioned the noise. Those things are part of the thrill, as motorcycle organisations have said to me. I totally get that, but when a cyclist is in that little space in front of the cars at the traffic lights, sometimes people on motorbikes do not act as responsibly as they could and are not aware that bike users are more vulnerable than them. For the cyclist, they have a bigger vehicle pushing in front of them, and the smell is not great. The sooner we can move to cleaner vehicles the better.
The hon. Member makes an important point. Once electric bikes become the fastest bikes, whether that is for motocross or as a track bike, that will become the pinnacle of the sport and that is where people will ultimately move. Encouraging tech design will create safety and environmental change.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
On the points made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), there is a really interesting discussion to be had. The modal shift is important. Why have we not moved to moped use in the way that, say, France or Italy has? It is not as commonplace in this country—perhaps it is the weather. There is an interesting debate about road space and how we use it. We are starting to see e-scooters on our roads, there are more people cycling and a lot of town planning wants priority bus lanes. All of that raises questions about who gets to use priority lanes, whether we have segregation, who is entitled to use the segregated lanes and what that means for cars—what road space is left for cars? I think we will be addressing those points more and more in the years to come.
Finally, I want to talk about the need to decarbonise—an issue that the industry has contacted me about. Support for the industry so far, in terms of decarbonisation, has been pretty limited. The plug-in motorcycle grant, which helps support the sale of low-emission bikes, is £1,500 at the moment—less than for cars. The funding is guaranteed only up to March 2023. I was going to ask the Minister whether the Government plan to keep the grant beyond that date or, as is the case with the car plug-in grant, to reduce it year on year, but as we have the Budget tomorrow, I suspect I know what her answer would be. Could she answer this question instead? In the transport decarbonisation plan, the Government promised an action plan for zero-emission light-powered vehicles by the end of the year. We have not seen any sign of that yet. Will it be published before the end of the year?
The 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles was announced back in November 2020. We are still waiting for the publication of the promised consultation on a 2035 ban on petrol motorbikes. There are also currently no Government targets for regulating the CO2 produced by motorbikes, unlike for cars and vans. That raises a few questions. Why are the Government allowing polluting petrol motorbikes to be sold until 2035, when there is a 2030 date for petrol cars? Will the Minister give an update on when those consultations and so on will be published?
It is really important that the transition to zero-emission vehicles is smooth. I welcome the Government’s recent announcement that they will introduce a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, but there was no mention of motorcycle manufacturers in the summary, despite the 2035 commitment to banning new petrol motorbikes and the suggestion that plug-in grant support may end sooner than that, in 2023. Will the Minister explain whether the Government want to offer the same support to motorcycle manufacturers as they are to EV car manufacturers, through the electric car mandate, which will encourage them to make the shift to producing cleaner vehicles sooner? If not, why are motorcycle manufacturers being left out?
I will conclude on that point because I am keen to hear from the Minister. It has been good to hear people’s enthusiasm today. We certainly want motorcycles to continue on our roads, but they do need to move with the times. I hope the Minister will tell us more about how they can do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. It is also a real pleasure to speak on this subject.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing the debate. It has taken me back to when I was 16. Dad took me to the garage and unveiled my first motorbike, as I thought, though it was probably a moped—a 50 cc bright blue Honda Camino. I have since had many enjoyable days out riding pillion on bikes from a Honda 900 CBR Fireblade, through to my dad’s last bike, which was a Yamaha FZR1000. There were many conversations around the kitchen table about Royal Enfields, BSAs, Triumphs, Nortons and many great British bikes.
It is wonderful to hear of the enthusiasm for motorbikes. While being proud of the past, we are energised for the future and looking ahead to the decarbonisation of bikes and the continuance of sport, recreation and commuting. I have listened carefully to the valuable and thorough contributions to today’s debate, and it is a pleasure to be closing it.
One of the first things my hon. Friend asked for was confidence that motorbikes are appreciated. They certainly will be by me. We have not had long this afternoon, but I have heard a lot. I agree with Members about the importance of road safety for motorcycle users, and the key role that motorcycling can play in meeting our current mobility needs. There was a request for an acceptance of motorbikes. I assure my hon. Friends and other Members that they have my personal advocacy.
Before I go into detail on plans, I want to acknowledge some important challenges faced by motorcyclists. As has been pointed out, motorcycles make up an important and sizeable vehicle population on UK roads, with 1.4 million licensed in 2020. I am aware of the greater level of risk that motorcyclists face on our roads, compared with other road users. Although they make up just 1% of total road traffic, they account for 19% of all road user deaths. I mentioned the Honda 900 CBR Fireblade. It was owned by a good friend, who was sadly killed on his motorbike.
There were many references to the Motorcycle Action Group, which does a great deal of good both in lobbying for policy change and with its charitable work. I have had the pleasure of seeing that for myself in Copeland. That group’s work, along with that of other charitable organisations, is superb. Another example is the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes, which transports blood, vaccines, plasma, platelets, samples, donor breast milk and other urgently required medical items to hospitals and healthcare sites. That is a life-saving service, which is provided completely free of charge by valiant volunteers, who offer their time for no pay or reward, allowing the NHS to divert funds where they are needed most.
Motorcyclists save our lives every day, and we must ensure the safety of theirs. Reducing the numbers of those needlessly killed and injured on our roads, especially vulnerable road users, is a key priority for the Department. That was evident in our road safety statement published in July 2019, which focused on the Department’s four priority road user groups: young road users, rural road users, motorcyclists and older vulnerable road users.
The statement described many actions that will contribute towards making our roads safer for all. Some of the actions that focused on motorcyclists included the promotion of the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency’s enhanced rider scheme to increase the uptake of post-test motorcycle training. It was interesting to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who I agree with on the good work that the police do in encouraging that advanced test—I was pleased to learn more about that. Other actions included the development of a training framework to encourage riders who complete compulsory basic training—CBT—to take full test training, and working with the motorcycle industry to encourage the use of protective equipment to reduce post-crash collision severity.
The way we move is changing, as is the way we live. The rise of the gig economy, and new apps that mean we can have anything delivered to our door in minutes, has increased the role of powered light vehicles. It is welcome that powered light vehicles, which are often a more affordable option than cars, can help people fill these jobs and satisfy this demand, but they must be able to do so safely. That is why, through the road safety statement, we commissioned research into the use of powered two-wheelers to better understand how we can reduce the safety risks encountered by these drivers and riders.
The Department remains committed to ensuring that motorcyclists are equipped with the specialist skills needed to stay safe on the road. The Department’s THINK! public awareness campaign has a motorcycle strategy that aims to create greater understanding between car drivers and motorcyclists. It also raises awareness about the steps that both parties can take to avoid collisions.
While I hope all of that reassures Members about how important motorcycle safety is to the Department, the work does not stop there—there is much more to do. We will shortly publish a new road safety strategic framework to improve our understanding of the risks and concerns of those who choose to ride. We have set out an ambitious future of transport programme, which aims to deliver significant advances for society, the environment and the economy. For vehicle standards we are conducting a regulatory review, which will help us enforce appropriate safety, security and environmental requirements. It will protect consumers, road users and the environment. There are three key ambitions for the review: first, we want to enable the introduction of safer, cleaner and more technologically advanced vehicles. Secondly, we want to ensure that swift remedial action can be taken if vehicle parts or safety related equipment placed on the UK market are found to be unsafe or non-compliant. Thirdly, we want to better prevent tampering with critical hardware or software where it negatively impacts on safety or the environment. I welcome the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe on that.
I see many opportunities for the role of motorcycles. Road vehicles are responsible for 91% of the UK’s annual domestic gas emissions from the transport sector. L-category vehicles are responsible for just 0.4% of that total. However, that does not mean that they should not be cleaned up, because decarbonising brings many associated benefits, in particular improving air quality and reducing the noise pollution that blights so many. That is why we have committed to delivering an action plan this year, through the Motorcycle Industry Association and Zemo Partnership, to build new UK opportunities for zero-emission light powered vehicles. We look forward to the launch of the action plan at Motorcycle Live in early December—an event I have heard much about in today’s debate and that I very much hope I can attend.
I am glad the Minister has given some attention to the vehicle regulation review. I listened to what she said: it is to avoid tampering with safety equipment. That is perfectly reasonable at face value. If somebody removes the rear seat from a motorcycle, and with it the grab rails that are a safety feature on the rear fender, will they have committed an offence if the wording of the legislation ends up the same as in the consultation?
I think the point is that many motorcycle parts are safety-critical, but we actually want to get on with routine and ordinary maintenance of our motorcycles. I know that the Minister will not want to answer now, but I will just make that point—we want to fix our own bikes.
I hear what Members are saying about proportionality, and I am sure that will be registered and acknowledged in forthcoming strategies.
The action plan will cover the innovation in urban logistics and personal mobility, while setting out the steps needed to build new opportunities for powered light vehicle industries. One such opportunity is reforming last mile deliveries, which has the potential to create healthier and more liveable places by removing toxic fumes from the most congested areas. We are committed to transforming the last mile into an efficient and sustainable delivery system, and we will work with industry, academia and other stakeholders to understand how innovation in the L-category sector can benefit the UK delivery market. That will include publishing a toolkit later this year to support local authorities in reducing carbon emissions from transport, recognising the important role that local areas will play.
I feel that the greatest impact will be achieved by committing to phase-out dates, just as we have done for polluting cars. That is why we have committed to consult this year on a phase-out date of 2035, or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible for the sale of new non-zero-emission-powered two and three-wheelers and other L-category vehicles. I recognise that the L-category sector encompasses a wide range of vehicle types and uses, so we will aim to find the most appropriate regulatory solution for each one—it will not be one size fits all. Any proposed phase-out dates for the sale of new non-zero-emission L-category vehicles will reflect both on what is needed to hit net zero by 2050, and on the technology currently available in the sector, but we will be ambitious.
It is right that Britain shows global leadership when it comes to L-category decarbonisation. By consulting on and deciding phase-out dates as soon as possible, we are clarifying the direction of travel for the L-category industry in the UK, giving vehicle manufacturers and consumers time to adapt.
I am afraid that I will not, simply because of time.
I am particularly proud of this country’s motorcycling heritage, which has been mentioned, and how we have pioneered the way for great motorcycle manufacturing. Our motorcycling legacy lives on and continues to evolve in the 21st century. One example is Project Triumph TE-1, which is leading the way in creating electric motorcycling capability. The project is supported and co-funded by the UK Government, and I am proud of Triumph and other British businesses for driving innovation and enhancing the credibility and profile of great British industry and design.
In conclusion, I am once again very grateful for the opportunity to speak positively about motorbikes, motorcyclists and the history and heritage of the industry. I look forward to the future, including the decarbonisation of that vital transport sector, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire for the opportunity to speak in this debate.
I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. We have seen enthusiasm from MPs representing wonderful parts of Northern Ireland, including the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) made the most important point of all, which was about safety. Many years ago, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to allow motorcycles into bus lanes. The evidence that followed proved that if we put motorcycles in bus lanes, pedestrians are more careful and the number of people killed and seriously injured drops. It does not seem intuitive, but that is how people behave. It is quite extraordinary, but it really works. If Members take away just one thing from today’s debate, it should be safety, safety, safety. Motorcyclists are environmentally friendly, independent and doing the right things. Their bikes are getting better and they are well behaved, but the one figure that is out of kilter is the number of people killed and seriously injured.
I congratulate the Minister on this outing, which must be one of her earlier ones—there will be many more. Anything that she can do in her new role to keep people safe and alive has to be worth it. To that end, I welcome the intention of the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) to take a leap of faith by riding a motorcycle in the coming months. It is the right thing to do. I thank everybody for their contributions, and I thank you, Mr Robertson.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).